A sunny update for a historic sunroom

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

The name of the historic home at T.C. Steele State Historic Site is more poetic than accurate today, but when the house was built in 1907, breezes caused the screens enclosing the sleeping porch to sing — earning it the name The House of the Singing Winds.

Warmed by winter sunshine and fresh paint, this pleasant room is just waiting for furnishings to bring it alive.

As houses (and lifestyles) evolve, the use of space often changes, and so it did with T.C. and Selma’s Arts & Crafts style home. When the couple began staying on the windy hill year-round, the south-facing porch was converted to a sunny room for breakfast, napping and numerous flats of seedlings that would eventually find a home in Selma’s Gardens.

I imagined it was a hard choice to make in those pre-air conditioned days — sacrificing such a comfortable place to sleep in summer for a warm and welcoming room in winter. As it turns out, the Steeles had both.

Close inspection (and some head scratching) by site and regional Restoration Specialists concluded that someone had devised a clever system of seasonally rotating the window screens and storms — and storing them very close to home.

The wall cavity beneath each of the windows was designed to house the lowered window sash in summer. Both the top and bottom sash of the double hung units fit into the space, leaving the entire window area open. What makes this clever?

Usually with double hung windows, the lower sash is raised into position in front of the upper sash, so only half of the window area is open to accept any breezes wafting by. With the Steeles’ set up, when the screens were installed in summer, the entire opening provided ventilation — in effect turning it back into a porch for the season.

This discovery was made as plans were made to restore the space. It’s amazing how much research is necessary before the public gets to see the final product. Details, such as what species of wood were used for the architectural elements, determining color through chemical paint analysis and choosing appropriate furnishings all had to be researched.

Since the House of the Singing Winds was used for many years as a Caretaker’s Residence, a lot of restoration work involves undoing previous renovations. Historic site staff must be detectives as well as interpreters. Steele’s paintings, Selma’s letters and historic photos taken by Frank Hohenberger were consulted.

These recent photos illustrate some of the clues that helped inform an accurate representation of the house as it was when T.C. Steele was alive:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The room isn’t quite ready for visitors yet, but you can still get a quick peek when touring the House of the Singing Winds. Stop by, whether the sun’s shining or not.

So much more than popsicle sticks and glitter

by Rebecca Zuppann, West Region Program Assistant

When I first started working at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site, I was asked to help work on an exhibit about the Arts & Crafts Movement. To be completely honest, I had never heard of the Arts & Crafts Movement, so naturally my first thoughts were of popsicle sticks, glitter and pipe cleaners. Thankfully, I had it all wrong and was able to discover an incredible time period in art history.

The Arts & Crafts Movement was a design revolution that found roots in England in the mid-1800s. The founder of the Movement, William Morris, strongly believed that beauty and quality of goods could only be achieved through skilled craftsmanship and not solely by the production of machines. This belief, along with his socialist ideals, inspired his goal of making quality, hand-crafted products widely available, and of improving the working and living conditions of the average citizen.

Morris’ idea of simplistic design and a return to true craftsmanship found its way into all forms of art, architecture and media, and quickly spread across the world to America and to T.C. and Selma Steele. In building their Brown County home, the Steeles utilized many Arts & Crafts principles of design: use of local materials, a structure dictated by function, a flowing floor plan and decorations created by local and regional craftsmen. Visitors to the T.C. Steele State Historic Site are able to see not only the Arts & Crafts architecture and design of the home, but also a large collection of artifacts including furniture, metalwork, books, textiles and ceramics.

Join us on a journey through the Arts & Crafts Movement and take a peek into the Steeles’ lives and their deliberate design choices. The Arts and Crafts Moments: Simplicity in Design exhibit features three rotations: artifacts currently at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site, objects from the Indiana State Museum collections and items from a private collection. The first rotation continues through April 30 and the second rotation begins May 2.

What’s Doin’ at the Dewar Cabin?

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

T.C. Steele State Historic Site is a place of many contrasts. Here, visitors can compare an earlier way of life to their own, as they tour the historic buildings and learn of the hardships the Steeles faced upon arriving in Brown County in 1907.

The site’s Dewar Log Cabin presents another contrast. It is so different from the Steeles’ House of the Singing Winds, that it’s hard to believe that both were lived in during the same early time period. The cabin’s present location — about two miles from its original spot — is within sight of the artist’s sprawling Arts & Crafts style home, but in appearance, they are miles apart.

Selma Steele purchased and moved the little cabin in 1934, wanting to preserve it as an example of local architecture. She used it as a Trailside Museum, housing objects from nature found along the same hills and valleys painted by her husband, T.C. Steele.

That’s a bit of background. Today, artists and visitors find both buildings equally appealing. Proof of the cabin’s popularity was exhibited (literally) this fall at the Great Outdoor Art Contest on Sept. 11, 2010. The log building was featured in these winning entries:

First Place Watercolor: William Borden of Hanover, Indiana

First Place Teen 13-18: Luke Sanders, Fishers, Indiana

First Place child 12 & under: James Szalkie, Indianapolis, Indiana (also, the grandson of 1st place Watercolor winner!)

Want to know more about the cabin’s history and happenings? Ask a docent for details. Visit the site and make your own comparisons. Imagine yourself as the parents of 18 children living in the Dewar Cabin — or as a content couple entertaining and hosting area artists in the House on Bracken Hill.