T.C. Steele’s Remote Studio

Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site

The remote studio, framed by a pair of trees along T.C. Steele Road.

Breathing in the winter air — and inspiration — en plein-air …

One of the less frequented features of T.C. Steele State Historic Site is the remote studio, a roughly 10 x 10 foot structure reconstructed in 1994 by members of the Brown County Rotary Club. Although at a distance from the site’s main buildings, it actually sits quite near a county road. For a closer look, you can hike (or cross-country ski!) a 1/4-mile easy-access trail to this not-so-remote spot.

In winter, a glimpse of the painter’s shack can be seen through the trees as you approach the historic site. Mr. Steele used the original shelter for painting many of his winter scenes. I thought it made a nice picture itself, framed by two large trees that were much smaller in Steele’s time. Not wanting to paint the little outdoor studio from outside its protective shelter, I settled for a photograph instead.

Three young women visit the remote studio (in warmer weather) around 1919. Courtesy, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Frank Hohenberger collection.

More familiar to visitors is the site’s Large Studio, reputed to be the largest private studio in the midwest at the time it was built in 1916. Seeing this space, it’s surprising to learn that most of Steele’s Brown County paintings were done en plein-air — or outside. The Large Studio was designed primarily as a gallery for Steele’s many works, while his preferred painting location was outdoors.

In her memoir, The House of the Singing Winds, Selma Steele illustrates her husband’s dedication to the plein-air method:                                                           

“Finally there arose a need for distant shelters to serve as studios when inclement weather made it impossible to work in the open … the painter built a well-lighted one-room studio on the top of the high hill overlooking the Schooner and Hunnicutt valleys. There were extensive views from these windows … Here many of the winter subjects were painted that are so splendid in their delineation of wintry snows and sunshine.”

The Steele’s didn’t let a little bad weather stop them from enjoying the beauty of their Brown County home, as indicated in this second excerpt from The House of the Singing Winds:

“It followed then that on a morning in early February of 1912, with temperatures hovering near the zero mark, we left the city for some deep winter experiences in the country.”

Since T.C. Steele State Historic Site is now open year-round, there’s nothing to stop you from experiencing that same beauty today. Maybe you’d like to try out the Remote Studio during the next cold snap — or do like I did and just snap a photo.

T.C. Steele State Historic Site is open for building tours Tuesday through Sunday. We’re closed on Mondays, but the grounds and trails aren’t. Call ahead for road conditions: 812.988.2785.

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