Swope Art Museum
Terre Haute, IN
Rediscovering Roots: Terre Haute Artists in the Swope Collection
Terre Haute, Indiana has produced a disproportionate share of America's leading cultural figures: poet Max Ehrmann, labor leader Eugene V. Debs, novelist Paul Dreiser and composer Theodore Dresser, among others. Terre Haute's contributions to America's visual culture are less well recognized, but no less important.
Terre Haute's native artists have had a significant impact at the national and even international level, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not surprisingly, this was a period of growth and prosperity. The "Pittsburgh of the West" was an important center for manufacturing and railroads, powered by abundant nearby supplies of high-sulfer coal. The wealth thus created supported a high level of culture that nurtured native talents, even if they were to complete their training and distinguish themselves in larger centers.
Representational artists in the collection include the following three Terre Haute artists:
Painter and polymath James Farrington Gookins (l840-1904) was the first painter of significance to come from Terre Haute. His earliest painting, a Wabash River scene probably done when he was about twenty, shows a precocious fluency and an awareness of Hudson River School painting.
Gookins went on to become an accomplished painter of landscapes, both European and Western (he beat Thomas Moran to the Mount of the Holy Cross), established a lucrative specialty in "fairy pictures" and helped found the forerunner of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Janet Scudder (l869-1940), through sheer talent and force of will, overcame daunting challenges to become a successful sculptor and designer of garden fountains. She took her first drawing lessons at the Rose Polytechnic Institute (now Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology). The poor, plain girl from Terre Haute became an international celebrity who frequented the salon of Gertrude Stein and shuttled between Paris and New York. (left: Janet Scudder, Young Diana, c. 1918, bronze, 26 1/2 inches high, presented to the Swope Art Museum by Mrs. Walker Schell, Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana, 1942.37)
The most dramatic success story is probably that of Amalia Küssner Coudert (1863-1932), who lived with her family above her father's music store in the handsome Greek Revival building that still stands across from the Vigo County courthouse. Introduced into New York society by actress and Terre Haute native Alice Fischer, she painted miniature portraits of the leading figures of her age, on both sides of the Atlantic, before marrying well and settling into a comfortable retirement abroad. (right: Amalia Küssner Coudert, Matilda Thora Wainwright Scott Strong, c. 1894, watercolor on ivory, 3 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch oval, gift of Lewis Hoyer Rabbage, in honor of Francis E. Hughes, Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana,1995.14)
Much work remains to reconstruct the career of Terre Haute native Caroline Peddle Ball (1869-1938), but it is known that she worked as a designer for Tiffany and Company and that she was a key figure in the studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. (left: Caroline Peddle Ball, A Trophy, c. 1914, bronze, 6 1/4 inches high, gift of Mary Ball, Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana,1942.40)
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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