Friday, May 4, 2018

Road Trip: Painting Retreat Part 2 – Brown County, Indiana

Redbud Farm - 9x12 oil demonstration - SOLD
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Our plein air painting retreat in Brown County, Indiana, continued Wednesday evening with a cookout at a local collector's house.  Our painters enjoyed barbecued pork tenderloin, served the way they do it in Brown County on a bun with lettuce and tomato, and mayonnaise, plus persimmon pudding.  Unlike the large southern persimmons I knew in my youth, the wild Indiana persimmon is smaller and needs to be gathered only after a frost knocks them off the bush.  I'm not much of a gourmand, but I did enjoy this tasty novelty.  We also enjoyed seeing many more paintings by the historic Brown County Art Colony artists.

Thursday took the prize with a visit to the T.C. Steele house and studio, just north of Nashville.  T.C., living in Indianapolis, wanted a place to escape the summertime heat, so in 1907 he purchased a hilltop farm with no running water and, of course, no electricity.  Life was tough, but over the next 20 years T.C. and his wife, Selma, managed to bring in a generator, install some plumbing and build not one but four studios.  T.C. spent the summers painting the local landscapes with friends, but in the winters he traveled back to Indianapolis to paint portraits, which were his bread-and-butter.  The day we visited, it rained, so we had only a glimpse of the lovely grounds.  Lilacs, redbuds and dogwoods—we could see why Steele liked it here.

Bust of T.C. Steele, with Selma in the painting

Steele's "fourth studio" - he rarely painted here, preferring to use the studio more as a show gallery

Steele's painting area

Steele's "fourth studio"

Painting by Steele - Selma gardening

Another Steele painting

The rain abated by lunchtime.  We headed back into town for lunch at the Hob-Nob Restaurant (strawberry shortcake—again!) and afterward, I demonstrated in oil the view from our cabin, which included a redbud tree.  Pretty clouds scurried over the hilltops, so I made sure to include them.  After all the dry weather in New Mexico this winter, I enjoyed seeing clouds and rain again.  Later, Trina and I went into town again to revisit the Brown County Art Gallery.  There were several paintings I wanted to see one more time.

Afternoon demo on the porch

Redbud Hill - 9x12 oil demonstration - Available
by Michael Chesley Johnson

On Friday, we got a tour of the painter Adolph Shulz' house.  (His studio, which is across the street, is owned by another party, and we didn't have access to that.)  This small log cabin has been enclosed in a larger structure, so the hand-hewn logs are visible on the inside.  Again, this house was filled with beautiful examples of not just historic painters but also contemporary ones.  As an extra bonus, we got to see a fine collection of Brown County pottery from the beginning of the last century.

Morning critique on the porch

Adolph Shulz house

Interior of house, showing log cabin

More of the Shulz house

Our happy painters.  Doug (right) is holding a painting of the house he made.
For the rest of the morning, we headed off to another amazing property:  log cabin, log outbuildings, redbud and dogwood trees, plus lots of perennials just starting to bloom.  The owners, who once ran the property as an antique store, also served us lunch—real Hoosier hospitality.  For my painting, I decided to complete a little log cabin I'd started at the camp we visited on Wednesday, and to incorporate some of the scenery around me.   I'd felt the start had something worth saving, and in the end, I was very happy with the piece and even sold it.


You can see the finished painting at the top of this blog post.

It was interesting to see how the landscape changed over the week.  When we first arrived, there were few or no green leaves on the trees; the starkness of bare beech, oak and maple was alleviated only by beautiful constellations of redbud flowers.  After a day or so, the green suddenly appeared, in a small way, but ominous.  Now the leaves have nearly taken over the delicate redbud blossoms.  The thick green curtain of summer isn't far behind.

Our the retreat has now ended.  Our little group has dispersed, and Trina and I are the only ones left at our hilltop cabin.  Tomorrow, we head out well before sunrise on our way east.  My next post will probably be after we reach Campobello Island next week.  Happy trails!

PS Douglas is also an authority on historic Cape Ann paintings and painters.  He has agreed to help us with a painting retreat there, possibly next year.  If you'd like to join us, remember:  Past students get priority for signing up!  If you haven't taken a workshop with me yet, now's the time.  You can find full workshop information at

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