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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Road Trip: Painting Retreat Part 1 – Brown County, Indiana

Springtime Maple 9x12 oil demonstration - Available
by Michael Chesley Johnson

A few years ago, Brown County, Indiana, wasn't on my bucket list of places to visit.  Being a painter of the East Coast and the Southwest, I didn't know much about the art scene in the middle of our country.  But while I was teaching at the Art Barn in Valparaiso (also in Indiana), a student of mine, Douglas Runyan, who is a very fine painter and art historian, told me about T.C. Steele.  Steele, sometimes called the dean of Indiana painters and who was a member of the Hoosier Group, moved to Brown County in 1907 to set up shop.  Other artists soon arrived, and in short order, the Brown County Art Colony began.  Other artists of note include Gustave Baumann, L.O. Griffith, Carl Graf and Will Vawter.  Douglas also touted the beauty of the rolling hills of Brown County, so it wasn't long before I scheduled a springtime painting retreat in Nashville, which was the center of the art scene.

Brown County!

After a long drive on Sunday from Bentonville, Arkansas, we arrived at our hilltop log cabin, nestled among the blooming redbuds and pale spring greens of new foliage, in the town of Bean Blossom.  Our participants were staying at the same cabin or very nearby.  We met Douglas, whom I had invited to help steer the retreat's educational program, at the Hob-Nob for dinner and to talk over plans for the week.  (The restaurant's strawberry shortcake alone would make Nashville famous.) After a drive through town to visit some of the paintings spots he'd selected—besides being an authority on the Brown County Art Colony, he also has painted many of the local scenes—we went to meet with our group and lay out the week.  Douglas also gave us an introductory lecture on Brown County artists.

Our happy group at breakfast at the Artist's Colony Inn

Lyn Letsinger-Miller introduces us to the Brown County Art Colony

Gustave Baumann process prints

Monday morning, we all met for breakfast at the Artist's Colony Inn.  It was hard to concentrate on breakfast what with the fine art on the walls, all of which was from our historic artists.  Surprisingly, some of the them not only painted Brown County, but also spent time with the Cape Ann (Massachusetts) painters, so the walls sported a few paintings of boats and harbor scenes as well as the green hills of Nashville.  Next, we headed over to the Brown County Art Gallery.  Although it's a gallery that features living local artists, it is primarily known as the core of this historic colony and offers a large collection of work by these artists.  Lyn Letsinger-Miller, author of The Artists of Brown County and, like Douglas, also an authority, presented a short video on the colony and gave us a tour of the gallery's collection, assisted by Douglas.  Together, they pulled out some choice pieces from the vault for us to see.

Demonstrating at Brown County State Park

Our painting stop for the afternoon was Brown County State Park.  The nice thing about a springtime workshop in Brown County is that you can still see the land—once the trees come out, I'm told, the land lies hidden behind a impenetrable green curtain.  The hills around the park were dotted with redbuds and the occasional dogwood.  Some of us painted the “opalescent haze” that colors the most distant ridges; I painted an oil study of a sugar maple, which I did as a demonstration.  (Although this isn't a formal workshop, I like to add value by demonstrating and running the critique sessions.)

Morning critiques

Demonstrating at the Flower and Herb Barn

Antiques 9x12 pastel demonstration - SOLD
by Michael Chesley Johnson

On Tuesday morning, we met for critiques just outside our cabin where we have a wide porch to line up paintings.  After that, we drove to the Flower and Herb Barn to paint.  A retail nursery, it was jam-packed with annuals and perennials, all crowded around a historic 1800s farm.  Later, we had lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe, which is part of the farm, and then wandered back to town to visit the Brown County Art Guild.  Like the Brown County Art Gallery, it has a large collection of historic works as well as paintings by living members.  Once part of the BCAG, in the 1950s some members, due to some disagreement, split off to form the Guild.  (We all know how artists can be.)

Painting at the summer camp

Douglas Runyan at work

Spring Greens 9x12 oil demonstration - Available
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Wednesday we paid a visit to a summer camp, where we were given free reign.  Old log cabins, barns, a little stream that wandered through the meadow—it doesn't get better than that!  I painted a view of one of the barns and focused on the strong spring sunshine.  After lunch, I painted an oil demonstration from inside one of the barns.  The weather, which has been surprisingly dry and moderate all week, suddenly turned hot on this day.  After standing in the sun at 84 degrees, we all welcomed the cool shade of the barn.  This humid weather promises another change; rain is expected tomorrow and Friday.

That's all for now.  I'll post a blog on the rest of the retreat later this weekend, when we get to Vermont.