Making It in the Midwest:
Artists Who Chose to Stay
June 20 - October 18, 2009
Wall panels for the exhibition
Making It in the Midwest: Artists Who
Chose to Stay
- Making It in the Midwest: Artists Who Chose to Stay is a double exhibition exploring the efforts of artists living
in Indiana and the Midwest to establish reputations and careers of national
and international standing. By presenting both historical and contemporary
perspectives, the exhibit showcases the extraordinary talent found throughout
Indiana and the surrounding region, and explores continuity and change
in the ways artists have gained recognition outside the centers of the
- The gallery of historical paintings examines the Society
of Western Artists, a group of artists from Indianapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati,
Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis. These artists sought to counteract the
East Coast's dominance in American art by initiating an annual exhibition
circuit to member cities between 1896 and 1914. These exhibitions attracted
national notice, enhancing the reputations of the artists who participated.
- Contemporary Hoosier artists continue to struggle to
survive as artists and to attract widespread attention for their work.
Their efforts to build careers and sustain their artistic passions -- while
remaining based in Indiana -- are the focus of the gallery of contemporary
work. The exhibit features 20 Hoosier artists who, through varying means,
have succeeded in establishing artistic careers and raising their visibility
beyond the region.
The Founding Members of the Society of Western Artists
- The year of the Society of Western Artists' birth, 1896,
coincided with Indiana's "Golden Age," a time when Indiana and
American art and culture overlapped. The "Hoosier Group" of Indiana
painters -- T.C. Steele (1847-1926), William Forsyth (1854-1935), J. Ottis
Adams (1851-1927), Otto Stark (1859-1926), and Richard Gruelle (1851-1914)
-- were considered leaders in a potential movement to establish a distinctly
American school of painting.
- Founding members of the Society of Western Artists all
chose to return to the Midwest after studying abroad. They claimed their
home territory to be as visually interesting and worthy of representation
as more dramatic coastal or mountainous terrain. Far from the Eastern seaboard,
where the major art exhibitions took place, they were acutely aware of
the disadvantages the Heartland posed concerning sales and recognition.
- The Chicago artists from the Cosmopolitan Club can rightfully
claim to have been the driving force behind the initial organizing and
founding of the Society of Western Artists. But the Hoosier Group artists,
excluding Richard Gruelle, were its sustaining strength. They devoted much
time and energy to serve as officers, jurors, and working members of the
annual exhibit committees, in addition to entering their best works in
The Society of Western Artists
- The name chosen for the Society evokes images such as
mountains, deserts, wild horses, and Native Americans. But in the late
1800s, residents in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Indiana considered
themselves to be in the West. Despite the 1890 census claiming Brown County,
Indiana, as the center of the nation's population, the Ohio Valley remained
politically and culturally "Western."
- The Society of Western Artists was an artist-led organization
founded in the early 20th century to raise national awareness of members'
work and to boost sales in wider markets. The Society's organizers, all
from the Midwestern cities of Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit,
Indianapolis, and St. Louis, wished to bring the work of their artists
"before the public in a more satisfactory manner." To
that end, the artists established an exhibition to circulate among their
- That first exhibition, consisting of works by founding
members and juried nonmembers, launched an ambitious six-month circuit
that continued each year until 1915. The inaugural opening at the Art Institute
of Chicago on December 15, 1896, presented 227 paintings, 19 sculptures,
and 17 ceramic works. Through size alone, the Society's exhibition reverberated
in the press all the way to New York. For the next 18 years, annual shows
enjoyed priority scheduling at sponsoring museums and attracted wide-ranging
reviews in the nation's art periodicals.
Artists Who Chose to Leave
- Making art can be a solitary pursuit fraught with uncertainties.
In addition to being vulnerable to fickle consumer preferences and economic
volatility, artists must continually set their own standards for quality
control while experimenting with new methods. Although plein air
painters commonly paint together, and those involved in Academia may gain
inspiration from revolving classes of students, other artists work alone
with no critical input during the creative process.
- The camaraderie and inspiration of working among other
artists in an open-minded environment may have been the motivation for
many artists to leave their Midwestern roots and head for the Big Apple.
Perhaps the best known native-Hoosier artist, William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
moved to New York and became a leading American Impressionist and influential
teacher. Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949) moved to Louisiana to teach, and
William Edouard Scott (1884-1964) settled in Chicago after his French sojourns.
Victor Higgins (1884-1949), Olive Rush (1873-1966), Carl Woolsey (1902-1965),
and Wood Woolsey (1899-1970) all headed out to experience Santa Fe's artist
community. More recently, feminist artist Mary Beth Edelson (b. 1935),
and African-American artists Carl Robert Pope Jr. (b. 1961) and Felrath
Hines (1913-1993) went to the East Coast. Constructivist Don Gummer (b.
1946), David Smith (1906-1965), and controversial sculptor Daniel Edwards
(b. 1965) also left the Hoosier state to establish art careers.
Current Artists Who Chose to Stay
- Indiana in the 21st century is home to hundreds of visual
artists who have chosen to live here. The reasons for their location preferences
vary -- quality of life and family ties; appreciation of Indiana's varied
landscape; job or relationship prospects; or lack of resources to relocate,
to name a few.
- Professional artists devote major time and energy to
pursuing their vocations in make-shift spaces at home, warehouses, studios,
and the great outdoors. However, creating art is only part of their job.
Getting their work seen and purchased by the public is crucial. Indiana
artists have found success in different ways, from hiring marketing agents
to personally schmoozing in urban centers in order to increase name recognition.
Some artists, focusing primarily on creating art, have adapted their lifestyle
needs to accommodate modest incomes.
- Artists who have chosen to live in Indiana have been
selected for this exhibition to tell their stories. Their stories represent
the variety of ways that each finds their own measures of success in the
Midwest. Each artist must find his or her own balance of creativity and
sustenance to master the art of living.
Return to Making It in the
Midwest: Artists Who Chose to Stay
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