Indiana artists: Artwork of the Hoosier State    

 Indiana artists
Jacob Maentel
From the early pioneer painters to the contemporary installation artists, the Hoosier state celebrates Indiana’s bicentennial and its rich artistic heritage.

One of the earliest known artworks created by a European in what would become Indiana was by a British officer. On his way to battle the American rebels holding the town of Vincennes in 1778, British officer Henry Hamilton sketched a view of the Wabash River (artwork now in the collection of the Harvard University Library.) As Indiana achieved statehood and attracted new settlers, the demand for artists’ skills slowly grew. The earliest artists were often itinerant and usually met a variety of practical demands, creating portraits, documenting settlements, and painting signs.

New Harmony, the southern Indiana utopian community, was one of the few that could support multiple artists. German-born folk artist Jacob Maentel (1763-1863) moved with his family from Pennsylvania to New Harmony in 1838. Maentel took full advantage of the town’s cultural and social opportunities. Though Maentel is known for his primitive-style portraits, his paintings are notable for the artist’s attention to detail, elaborate settings and interpretive qualities. Maentel remained in New Harmony until his death at the age of 100. Among his patrons were the Coopers, prominent members of the New Harmony community. John Cooper was a successful farmer who owned land east of New Harmony. In one of Maentel’s paintings, Cooper is shown with his dog, Snap, and his home and fields in the background. The portrait is one of six family portraits that have remained together through the generations, making the collection extremely rare.

Farther north in Indiana, Granville Bishop (1831-1902) was a self-taught artist who made his living traveling central Indiana painting landscapes, portraits, store signs and theatrical scenery. His work, Oak Hill Farm (circa 1870), is a painting commissioned by Charles Seaward, Sr., the owner of a property in Alto (now part of Kokomo), Indiana. Crippled and confined to a wheelchair, Bishop completed the painting while living on the Seaward farm, receiving room and board, plus a small wage for his work. Charles Seaward Sr. was a breeder of prize cattle and is depicted on the right side of the painting, dressed in white shirt and suspenders. The painting was passed down through the family until Mary Agnes Duncan, Charles Seaward Sr.’s great-great-granddaughter, donated it to the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites in 2012. T.C. Steele

Perhaps Indiana’s most recognized group is the Hoosier Group, founded by T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, Otto Stark and Richard Gruelle in the 1890s. Best known for adapting Impressionist techniques to the Indiana landscape, their influence continues today. As a youth, John Ottis Adams (1857-1927) spent time in the Indiana towns of Franklin, Martinsville and Shelbyville. He later attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. In 1898, Adams and fellow artist T.C. Steele purchased a house in Franklin County in the town of Brookville. Known as The Hermitage, it was a popular gathering place for artists, and its studio space provided easy access to the landscape. Later that year, Adams married the artist Winifred Brady, and the two settled in the Brookville studio and residence.

The Hoosier Group artists’ interest in the Arts and Crafts movement can be seen today in the aesthetic environment created by T.C. Steele and his wife Selma Neubacher Steele at the House of the Singing Winds near Nashville, Indiana, now a part of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. By the 1920s, the Arts and Crafts movement was coming to a close, but its influence could still be seen in the one-of-a-kind floor screen by Hoosier artist Carl Graf, created around 1925. In addition to paintings, Graf (1892-1947) created multiple functional screens for himself and his patrons. Graf viewed the screens not just as decorative functional objects, but as an art form. The hollyhock motif was a common theme in Graf’s two-dimensional works.

Forsyth The Hoosier Group artists’ influence was spread through their exhibitions and advocacy on behalf of Indiana artists, and they popularized Brown County as a destination for artists, and their teaching careers. Along with the fellow Hoosier Group artists, T. C. Steele and William Forsyth, John O. Adams was instrumental in establishing the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. A beloved teacher as well as an accomplished painter, William Forsyth mentored hundreds of Indiana artists during the first half of the 20th century. Forsyth (1854-1935) was perhaps the most varied in style and technique of the Hoosier Group painters, although, like his contemporaries, he built his reputation as an Impressionist painter. His work, The Red City (1913), won a bronze medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Despite his well-documented disdain for modernist works, the abstract qualities of this painting show he was open to experimentation and likely was influenced by nontraditional painters of the day.

Brown County also had appeal to artists from outside the state. Charles W. Dahlgreen (1864-1955), a native of Chicago, first visited Brown County in 1914. He was one of many out-of-town artists who regularly returned to the region to paint. Traveling in a custom-equipped Model A “studio” truck, Dahlgreen spent extended periods of time on the road, stopping and painting whatever caught his eye. He was active in both the Chicago and Brown County art scenes. When he died, Dahlgreen requested that his ashes be spread in Brown County, under a white oak tree he had frequently painted.

Brown County was not the only locale where artists formed strong and supportive communities. Richmond, Indiana was the center of the earliest such community of artists; the Richmond Group, which pre-dated their neighbors to the south and had a large and active membership. Further south in the state, the Wonderland Way artists coalesced around the Art Shop in New Albany, Indiana and its owner, James L. Russell. Named for the route between Cincinnati and New Albany, the group was active from 1906 into the 1930s and included about 300 artists.

Katherine Bulliet (1880-1946) was born in Corydon, Indiana, and studied with local artists Sidney Crosier and James Russell. A member of The Wonderland Way Art Club and active in Illinois and Southern Indiana art communities, Bulliet had a contemporary edge that set her apart from her peers. Her work, which was closely aligned with Modernist painters of the day, featured abstract imagery and dramatic settings. Bulliet regularly exhibited in New York and Chicago art shows. Her husband, C. J. Bulliet, was the art critic for the Chicago Tribune.

Another artist who clearly identified with a Modernist approach was Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949). Born in Vevay, Indiana, Stevens worked in both representational landscape and geometric abstract styles of painting. In 1901, the artist enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy, leaving in 1904 to work at Rookwood Pottery as a painter and designer of ceramics. With an interest in experimenting with a variety of media, he made his own paint and developed a new formula for pastel chalks. Late in life, Stevens experimented with abstract compositions influenced by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky after viewing an exhibition of the artists work. While Kandinsky’s influence is readily apparent in Stevens’ work, such as painting No. 3, the artist continued to work in many different styles, including representational landscape. 

The first quarter of the 20th century saw the establishment of another Indiana institution that is thriving today. The Daughters of Indiana, a group of women from Indiana, then living in Chicago, recognized that artists from their home state were not getting their due. In response, they organized an annual art exhibition. On March 9th, 1925 the first Hoosier Salon exhibition opened to the public on the second floor of Marshall Field & Company galleries located in downtown Chicago. The show would relocate to Indianapolis in 1942. Daddy Bucks’ Place (circa 1925) by Francis Focer Brown was exhibited in the first Hoosier Salon and won the award for “Best Painting by (an) Artist Under 35 Years of Age.” Brown (1891-1971) was an accomplished painter and respected teacher. He headed the Fine Arts Department at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, from 1925 until 1957 and was director of the Muncie Art Museum. Brown trained with Hoosier Group artist t J. Ottis Adams at The Hermitage, and also studied with William Forsyth at Herron School of Art, where he met his wife, the artist Beulah H. Brown. Another regular participant and award winner in the Hoosier Salon exhibitions, Mildred Niesse (1915-2008) was born in Milroy, Indiana and received her formal training at the Indianapolis Art League in the 1950s. The artist used a recognizable primitive style in her paintings, but upon closer inspection, it can be seen that her work is highly detailed and sophisticated.

Other Indiana artists went to Europe for academic training and then returned to apply their talents to Hoosier subjects.

AldrichGeorge Ames Aldrich’s Steel was an award winner at the1929 Hoosier Salon. In the early 1920’s, Aldrich (1872-1941) moved to Indiana and taught drawing at the Fine Arts Club in South Bend. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, he studied at New York’s Art Students League in the 1890s under the American Impressionist painter John H. Twachtman. Later, Aldrich traveled throughout Europe, living in France for several years before moving back to the states in 1917 and settling in Chicago. Aldrich is best known for his romanticized landscapes complete with rural mills and flowing streams.

Another artist who traveled abroad, William Edouard Scott (1884-1964) was an accomplished portrait artist who challenged the common practice of painting African Americans as subordinate, instead presenting his subjects in positions of prominence and social independence. Born in Indianapolis in 1884, Scott attended Emmerich Manual High School, and then studied under the Hoosier Group artist Otto Stark.  The artist moved to Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago where he won the Frederick Mangus Brand prize for pictorial composition. He traveled abroad and was mentored by the esteemed African American artist Henry O. Tanner in France, where he developed a strong reputation for his genre scenes and exhibited at the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy in London. Scott returned to Indiana where he enjoyed a successful career as a muralist and portrait painter.

Weaver In the 1920s and ‘30s, Indiana artists mirrored national trends, with increasing interest in realism, Regionalism and the American Scene. Born in Peru, Indiana, the so-called “Circus Capital of the World,” Robert Weaver (1913-1991) was a regional artist and illustrator who took full advantage of his hometown’s claim to fame. In paintings and drawings, Weaver chronicled the everyday lives of circus performers, animals and the public they entertained. Weaver earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from Herron School of Art and received many national awards for his colorful compositions. The Riding Hannefordss (1939) is considered one of his finest works and was exhibited at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

Post WW II, rapid changes in communication, science, industry and social norms transformed Indiana as it did the rest of the world. As Indiana changed, its artists responded. While representational work remained popular, a new direction in art emerged; the proliferation of abstract, non-objective and imagery with a social message.

Originally from Indianapolis and a 1931 graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, Felrath Hines (1913-1993) attended Herron School of Art, because it was open to all races. Hines left Indianapolis in 1937 to further his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, and, later, the Pratt Institute in New York City. In the 1960s, Hines became active in the Civil Rights movement and joined fellow African American artists in Spiral, a group headed by Romare Bearden. Hines’ early work was primarily abstract and influenced by Cubism.

Garo Antreasian (b. 1922) was born in Indianapolis and attended Arsenal Technical High School (as did Robert Indiana), studying under the renowned instructor Sara Foresman Bard. In 1940, he earned a scholarship to Herron School of Art, where he studied painting and lithography. Upon graduation, Antreasian joined the faculty at Herron and was instrumental in establishing the school’s printmaking department. He left Indianapolis in 1960, joining fellow printmaker June Wayne to open Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles.

WeaverThe proliferation of University based art programs and easy access to new technologies and funding fueled the growth in alternative artistic disciplines. Previously associated with craft, contemporary ceramics, glass and metalwork would take their place alongside the traditional art forms of painting and sculpture. Site specific, installation, and collaborative works would also respond to a growing public appetite for experiential works in public places. Some examples:

Since 1983, Randy Long (b. 1951) has been a professor of art and head of the Metalsmithing and Jewelry Department at Indiana University in Bloomington. In her work, she strives for balance between technique, materials and function.

A six-artist team called The Droops, Ally Alsup, Brock Forrer, Emily Gable, Paul Pelsue, Ashley Windbigler and Adam Wollenberg, all with Indiana roots, met while students at Herron School of Art and Design. Drawing on a mixture of influences including childhood memories, cartoon illustration and tattoo art, each contributes a unique style of work to their collaborative compositions.

Other artists of interest are Site-specific installations and sculpture are created by George Rickey, Anila Quayyum Agha, David Smith, and Kay Rosen.

From the earliest pioneer painters who traveled the state in search of work, to current day high-tech installation artists who travel the globe, the artists of Indiana remind us of the progress that has been made in the visual arts, one artist at a time, establishing a rich and significant cultural legacy for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Credit: Mark Ruschman

Mark Ruschman has been Chief Fine Arts Curator for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites since 2012. Responsibilities include: managing the ISMHS fine art collection, acquiring new artwork through donation and purchase, organizing exhibitions and overseeing the Indiana Statehouse art collection. Prior to the museum, he owned and directed Ruschman Gallery, a retail gallery specializing in contemporary fine art for 25 years. Ruschman has served on various nonprofit boards and civic organizations including iMOCA (Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) and IDADA (Indianapolis Downtown Artist and Dealers Association), where he was a founding member and past president. Ruschman also served as past president of the Riley Area Development Corporation, a downtown community development corporation.