Discovering T.C. Steele and other treasures

by Karen Lowe, guest blogger and Indiana State Museum member

NOTE: We are excited to share the following write-up from one of our museum members, Karen Lowe. Karen has attended many of our members-only trips and each time she shares her viewpoint of the trip. On Sept. 22, we headed to T.C. Steele State Historic Site and Indiana University Art Museum. Thank you Karen for sharing you trip review with the museum for others to enjoy! Karen’s son, Damon Lowe, is our Curator of Biology, Science and Technology Exhibit Developer!

What a perfect way to spend the first day of autumn! Forty Indiana State Museum members and guests visited the T.C. Steele State Historic Site near Bloomington, where we were treated to an interesting and informative tour of the Indiana artist’s home and studio. T.C. Steele is one of the state’s most famous artists, having produced literally thousands of works during his lifetime. The home where he spent his last years, and where he lived while painting many of his most famous landscapes has been preserved and is currently in the final stages of being restored to its original early 20th century condition. The house contains many of Mr. and Mrs. Steele’s personal furniture, books and other belongings, and the walls are filled with Steele’s art work. The interpreter encouraged us to imagine how the urban Selma Steele might have felt as she came as a bride to this wilderness home, even having to walk the last several hundred yards in her wedding gown, as the horse and buggy couldn’t make it up the muddy road to the house. While favorably impressed with the first room, which was Steele’s original studio, she was soon terribly disillusioned when she saw what passed for a kitchen which she called “a masterpiece of unattractiveness.” No provision had been made for a chimney for the wood-burning cookstove, there were no cupboards for her dishes. Eventually, modifications were made and one of the best features of the house was the screened porch which wrapped around three sides. The sound of the wind through the screens led to the name of the house: “The House of the Singing Winds.”

For the second stage of the tour, we visted Steele’s “dream studio,” built in 1916, nine years after the house was built. In this huge building with its towering north windows, we saw a large sampling of Steele’s work, from the early portraits to the German-influenced paintings and finally to the beautiful impressionistic landscapes. The centerpiece of the exhibit for our members’ tour was the mysterious “found” painting, dated 1890 and discovered in 2012 when a New England painting dated 1887 was being restored. The mystery may never be solved as to why the artist stretched one canvas over another, thus hiding it for over 100 years!

The beautiful wooded setting of T.C. Steele’s home, which is on 211 acres, invites you to stroll the grounds, hike the trails to the log cabin that Selma had restored, and to the little cemetery where the Steeles and some of Selma’s family rest.

The tour continued to Bloomington, to the campus of Indiana University, to which Steele had strong ties. He was the first artist-in-residence at the University, and many of his paintings are exhibited there as well. He painted the portrait of the University’s first president, which is on exhibit along with portraits of all the following presidents, painted by other artists. In addition to seeing more of his work, the guide led us through several halls of the student union to show us many other treasures, some by other Hoosier artists. The composer Hoagy Carmichael even tried his hand at painting, and his donated large painting of the Constitution Elm in Corydon dominates the end of one hall. Our guide said that she was glad Carmichael stuck with his musical career!

The final leg of our tour was to the I.U. Museum of Art. The president of the Friends of T.C. Steele spoke to the group about the American artists that were exhibited there, and then encouraged us to explore the museum before returning to Indianapolis.

Of restaurants and museum artifacts

A theory about people and taste led me to see if I could find a connection between the kinds of activities or artifacts people enjoy at the museum and their favorite foods. After a bit of investigation, I don’t know that my theory necessarily holds any water, but I still think it’s fun to note their favorites and pass along a few Indiana State Museum staff picks.

  Gail Brown: Manager, Science Content Delivery
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Monon, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The atlatl in the Native American Gallery
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Native American Dance Circle
~ Favorite restaurant: Bruno’s Pizza, West Lafayette
  Joanna Hahn: Manager of Arts and Culture Programs
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Madison County, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: Kiddish Cup in Hoosier Way Gallery
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Fall when we are the busiest with programs and there are a lot of fun things to do.
~ Favorite restaurant: Right now my favorite restaurant is Iozzo’s Italian on South Meridian.
~ Favorite homemade food: macaroni and cheese
  Michele Greenan: Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: Native American Gallery and the beautifully incised archaic bone pins
~ My favorite time at the museum is late at night working in the clean lab against the lights of the canal.
~ My favorite restaurant in Indy is any Starbucks!
  Eric Todd: Science and Technology Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Graduated from Butler University in 2006
~ Favorite artifact: Bobby Plump’s Milan High School basketball jacket
~ Favorite program: Summer Camps
~ Favorite local restaurant: Yats
  Carrie M. Miller: Science & Technology Program Developer
~ Indiana connection: Born in Rush county, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The natural history galleries including the R.B. Annis Naturalist’s Lab
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: GeoFest
~ Favorite restaurant or favorite homemade food: Pretty much anything prepared by my mom.
  Katherine Gould: Associate Curator of Cultural History
~ Indiana connection: Moved here to attend graduate school. Got a job and stayed.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: 1970s popular culture wall in Global Indiana (bongs and bell bottoms!)
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: I’m a sucker for anything Christmas.
~ Favorite restaurant: Any Thai or Indian restaurant is my favorite. Spicy, spicy, spicy!
  Rachel Perry: Fine Arts Curator
~ Indiana connection: Raised in Bloomington, attended University High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: NiSource Gallery (where most of our art exhibitions are displayed), of course! Favorite painting is “Dairy Barn” by Robert Selby
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Great Outdoor Contest at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site
~ Favorite restaurant: College Avenue Yats
  Katy Creagh: Museum Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Graduated from high school in Munster and went to Ball State University
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The Bride & Groom fleas in Odd Indiana
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: The Indiana Art Fair and Arbor Day
~ Favorite restaurant: Cafe Patachou
  Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker: Curator of Social History
~ Indiana connection: I was born on a farm west of Greenwood in Johnson County.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: A pair of dolls given by a Civil War soldier to his daughters before he went off to camp, where he died a month later.
~ Favorite event at the museum: The Indiana Art Fair in February is always a wonderful blast of color and beauty in a cold, gloomy time of year.
~ Favorite restaurant: El Sol de Tala on East Washington Street serves the best Mexican food in Indiana!
  Kerry Baugh: Arts & Culture Program Developer
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Terre Haute, Ind. (Vigo County)
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The entire Odd Indiana exhibit, limestone quarry and the handwritten John Mellencamp lyrics for “Jack & Diane”
~ Favorite event at the museum: Hard to choose, but Family New Year’s Eve is one great party!
~ Favorite restaurant: Market Bella Rosa in Terre Haute; Taste Café and the Donut Shop in Indy.
~ Favorite homemade food: Depends on the season, but right now – chili.
  Christa Petra Barleben: Arts and Culture Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Fort Wayne is my hometown
~ Favorite Artifact: Julia Graydon Sharpe’s Silk Ball Gown in the Crossroads of America Gallery.
~ Favorite Event: Pinewood Derby
~ Favorite Restaurant: Creation Café

We’d love to hear about your favorite event or exhibit at the museum. Comment below and let us know some of your Indiana favorites.



Chasin’ Away the Blues

great-blue-heronToday was the third morning I sighted a Great Blue Heron on my drive to work, in the same area as before. About a mile north of T.C. Steele State Historic Site, Salt Creek runs westward on its way to Lake Monroe. The turn-off onto T.C. Steele Road is at the little town of Belmont, about halfway between Nashville (Indiana) and Bloomington. Ahead of me was the bridge that crosses Salt Creek, and over the creek, flying parallel to it, was the heron.

These herons are large birds, deserving of the name great. How you’d describe them further would depend on whether you saw them flying, or ‘at rest’. When they are hunting (for fish, frogs, reptiles and crayfish) they appear to be resting, until they use their spear-like beaks to jab their prey. Blink, and you’ll miss it.

Flying is another matter. If they were walking, they’d be sauntering — with an occasional stagger thrown in. The only bird I know that looks more awkward in flight is the Wild Turkey. I’ve never seen a Great Blue Heron at rest, on the nest, but I hope to someday.

They prefer tall trees, (usually near water) often nesting with other herons in ‘rookeries’. Apparently they don’t watch Home Improvement, but maybe they should. Their nests have been described as piles of sticks, added to over the years without benefit of Planning and Zoning.

This statue represents either a heron or a crane — people often confuse the two.

This statue represents either a heron or a crane — people often confuse the two.

Selma Steele placed this garden sculpture by her lily ponds. Today,  it is stored away — out of sight due to damage. I hope it can be restored soon and returned to its former spot. The Koi swimming in the ponds won’t need to worry about this heron (or crane). I’ll do more research, but meanwhile I’m calling it a Great Blue Heron.

I have learned that Great Blue Herons were more prevalent in the Steele’s day, just as Belmont was more of a town then than it is now. The road that the Steeles took on their way home was much rougher too, but there were compensations. Likely, they saw even more herons than I have and were just as uplifted by the sight, as they began the steep climb to The House of the Singing Winds. It’s hard to have the blues when you’ve just seen a Great Blue Heron.

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

What’s In A Name?

Cappi Phillips' Signature Artist piece for the 2009 Indiana Art Fair.

Cappi Phillips' Signature Artist piece for the 2009 Indiana Art Fair.

The time has almost arrived. The Indiana Art Fair is right round the corner! And with that, the Signature Artist piece has been revealed and will be on display in the museum’s Frank O’Bannon Great Hall leading up to the event. Though plans for the event are pretty much finalized there is one last point of business – there is not title for the Signature Artist piece!

Here is your chance to get involved with a real piece of art. We are looking for a title for this year’s 2009 Indiana Art Fair Signature Piece by Bloomington, Indiana artist Cappi Phillips. To contribute, visit the Indiana Art Fair on Feb. 21 or 22 and visit Cappi’s booth to get an up close view of the piece and leave your title suggestions. The chosen title will be shared via the museum’s website by the end February.