At Home with Indiana Artist T.C. Steele

I’m standing in a living room, admiring the bold olive green paint, the dark polished woodwork and the shelves lined with books. But it’s the west wall that keeps grabbing my attention. Nearly every available space is covered in paintings, including landscapes and portraits, all skillfully done and breathtakingly beautiful. But, in the home of Hoosier artist T.C. Steele in southern Brown County, staring at his amazing works of art, I shouldn’t expect otherwise.

T.C. Steele's paintings grace the wall of his front parlor at his home near Nashville, Indiana.

T.C. Steele’s paintings grace the wall of his front parlor at his home near Nashville, Indiana.

I’m visiting the T.C. Steele State Historic Site just two miles south of Belmont off of State Road 46 west of Nashville and I’m thoroughly enjoying the blissful atmosphere. Any Hoosier who’s ever traveled in Brown County in the fall knows that the leaf peeper traffic can sometimes rival that of I-465 during rush hour, but turning on to T.C. Steele Road – which is NOT well marked, by the way – it’s possible to leave the thundering Harleys behind. This quiet, winding, tree-covered road is, in places, barely big enough for two cars to pass and is gravel in spots. On the Saturday I visited, I saw not a single one as I drove to the 211 acre site.

Coming to the former homestead of Indiana’s foremost landscape artist, one is immediately taken by the beauty of the place. Steele’s former home is an amalgam of towering oak and tulip trees, formal gardens, sweeping lawns, climbing vines and goldfish ponds which once served as emergency water sources for the home in its early years when it lacked running water. Dark red buildings – from the artist’s former outdoor studio to his larger, dream studio, to the home he shared with his second wife, Selma – dot the landscape and, frankly, as an amateur artist, it made me want to grab an easel and paint.

Inside the home of T.C. Steele

Inside the home of T.C. Steele

The grounds and formal gardens, which Selma Steele created for her husband to do just that, paint, are free for visitors to explore along with several hiking trails scattered about the 211 acre site. I popped into the office/gift shop to inquire about a tour and, discovering I had a 45-minute wait, I gladly spent it exploring and hiking. A slow idle among the gardens to the goldfish pond rewarded me with not one but 21 frogs sunning themselves on lily pads, and I had the pleasure of dodging dozens of falling acorns as I explored the Dewar log cabin which Selma Steele rescued from demolition and had moved to the property in the early 1930s.

After a half mile trek on the aptly named “Trail of Silences” which is not aptly rated as moderate given my desk-job physic, I waited outside the doors of Steele’s large studio for the tour. By this time a handful of other visitors had arrived, but, still, we barely constituted a crowd. After a brief background on Steele, his wife and their home, known as The House of the Singing Winds, Indiana State Interpreter John Moore unlocked the studio door and we were plunged into the world of the artist.

Theodore Clement Steele – T.C. to family and friends – was the most prominent artist of the Hoosier Group, a circle of talented, nationally recognized Indiana artists which also included Otto Stark and William J. Forsyth. Born in Gosport, Indiana in 1847, Steele lived most of his life in Indiana with the exception of five years spent training in portraiture at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany. While in Germany, Steele was exposed to the work of landscape painters who embraced en plein air impressionism – a style of painting aimed at catching natural light while painting on site and out of doors – and it would eventually change his own style of painting and lead him to this out-of-the-way hilltop in remote Brown County.

Upon returning to the United States in 1885, Steele began making his fortune as a portrait artist in Indianapolis– this being the pre-selfie days of ever present cameras – and he and his first wife, Libbie, amassed enough money to purchase a summer home in Brookville where he practiced his landscape painting skills. That Steele once called Brookville home was news to me, and it turned out to be just one of the many interesting tidbits I learned during our tour of Steele’s studio and home. To know that one of my favorite artists once lived as close to me as Brookville was surprising to say the least. One can’t help but wonder what may have happened to Franklin County had Steele remained in Brookville, rather than forsaking it for Brown County in 1906.

One of Steele's paintings from his Brookville, Indiana days

One of Steele’s paintings from his Brookville, Indiana days

But forsake it he did, leaving Brookville in grief after the death of his first wife. Eventually Steele met his second wife, Selma Neubacher – who, at 23 years his junior, was an artist friend of his three children – and, after scouting around Brown County for some time, Steele purchased this hilltop as the site of his next summer home in 1907.

That same year the Steeles built their home, expanding upon it over time and adding other outbuildings as needs arose. During their years at The House of the Singing Winds, the view from the porches – as seen in many of Steele’s paintings – was expansive as the area had been logged and farmed, unlike the rather wooded grounds surrounding the home today. On the day I visited, it was possible to compare an actual view of the home with one Steele had painted decades ago from the same vantage point. The Indiana State Museum manages the site and with over 300 of Steele’s paintings at its disposal, changes the exhibits often, but as the home is featured in many of his paintings, you will most likely have the same opportunity to do so yourself, should you visit.

Outside Steele's dream studio at his home near Nashville, Indiana

Outside Steele’s dream studio at his home near Nashville, Indiana

T.C. Steele died in July, 1926 and is buried alongside Selma on the grounds which proved to be another surprise for me as I hadn’t planned on standing at his grave, but was honored to do so. Selma Steele struggled financially after his death, but remained at The House of the Singing Winds until her death in 1945. Upon her passing, it was discovered that Steele’s last painting – a still life of Selma’s peonies – was still upon his easel.

Selma left the property and paintings to the State of Indiana as a tribute to her husband and his work, but it fell into disrepair until the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites took over its care in the 1980s. Extensive repairs, renovations and restorations were undertaken, and Steele’s paintings were restored. Today, it is a testament to T.C. and Selma’s individual talents, his with a paint brush, hers with a garden trowel.

One of T.C. Steele's paintings of his home near Nashville, Indiana - The House of the Singing Winds

One of T.C. Steele’s paintings of his home near Nashville, Indiana – The House of the Singing Winds

The T.C. Steele State Historic Site is open year round, Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Sundays from 1 to 5 P.M. The site is closed on Mondays and holidays. With the exception of the Dewar Cabin, the buildings are not open to the public except during the daily guided tours which are frequent and well worth the wait and cost. Parking is free and readily available, and visitors can explore the grounds, gardens and trails for free too, but admission is charged for tours. Prices are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $2 for students and children over the age of three. Children under the age of three are free. Group rates are available too and members of the Indiana State Museum or any one of its other 10 historic sites get free admission.

For more information on the T.C. Steele State Historic Site or to plan your visit, check out the following links.

Friends of T.C. Steele – http://www.tcsteele.org/

Indiana State Museum – http://www.indianamuseum.org/explore/t.c.-steele

Follow my newspaper blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

Me working on a community art project - painting crosswalks in Shelbyville, Indiana.

Me working on a community art project – painting crosswalks in Shelbyville, Indiana.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News

For the Love of Traveling Companions and Italian Punctuation

I have grown to love the sight of the words “Ca’ Elena” in my inbox.  Just the sight of that ending apostrophe sends shivers up my corn-fed, middle-aged spine.  There aren’t a great many words in the English language with that funny little punctuation mark at the end of them.  Sure, contractions like “can’t” and “won’t” and “don’t” and “shouldn’t” are dripping with them in an oh-so-negative fashion.  But put it on the very end of a word like ca’ and the exotic implications drip with the promise of foreign adventure on a grand scale.

Call me crazy, but I need more ending apostrophes in my life, and I don’t mean the plural possessive kind.

Enter Open House Spain.  As September draws near, it draws ever so closer with it my Venetian dream which is about to come true in spectacular fashion.  Mid month I will set off on my lovely adventure thanks to Open House Spain’s

The living room of fair Ca' Elena

The living room of fair Ca’ Elena

“Go With Oh” international travel blog writing competition.  As a runner up, I have been awarded the use of an apartment in Venice and thus begins my relationship with that Italian beauty, Ca’ Elena. 

For Ca’ Elena – which Google Translate claims in English is Ca’ Elena – is the delightful name of my home-away-from-home in the far eastern regions of the Cannaregio District, and it appears in the subject line of every email I get from Michele, the apartment manager, who I like to think of as my Italian match maker extraordinaire.  Even when I read her emails they carry an Italian accent.  I bet if I print them out they’ll smell like cheese.

The master bedroom where I may, on occassion, sleep.

The master bedroom where I may, on occassion, sleep.

Set in a quiet local neighborhood, Ca’ Elena is perched at dead end of Corte Paludo, a narrow street which runs east to west between two canals and which, no doubt, has never seen a car or truck in it’s life.  From what I can see from Google Earth, Ca’ Elena is a delightfully squatty building with a dusky red tiled roof, and sports a wide southern facing balcony between brick red walls to the west and ochre yellow walls to the east and which overlooks a small courtyard – begging the question, is that OUR balcony perhaps?

Oh, pinch me now, fair Ca’ Elena, pinch me now!

A quiet canal

Ca’ Elena’s caretaker, Michele, has graciously emailed me on several occasions regarding such necessities as what vaporetto to take from Marco Polo Airport and when and where to meet so she can walk us to the apartment.  While Venice is a maze in which I intend to very quickly get lost, doing so with luggage in tow is not on the bucket list.  And so Michele graciously emails me and I do cartwheels and my mind wanders off to the Bridge of Sighs and I make plans to cook pasta for dinner and every word I utter ends in “o” and I find myself ordering vividly colored sundresses on ModCloth while asking the children to bring me a gelato.

Words don't do justice

Words don’t do justice

And, as Ca’ Elena comes with not one bedroom but two, just joining me in my dream will be my bestie art buddies, Candy and Preston, because dreams are nothing without characters – and, trust me, Candy and Preston are characters – because characters come with stories and plot lines and emotions and opinions and visions that are the proverbial salt and pepper which season any experience worth having.

So let me introduce you to my sea-salt seasoning, Preston who comes with a black leather hat worn on all occasions and who likes his bourbon from the top shelf.  As a fellow Hoosier, he lives in the country where he and his brother, Alan, run a cooperative garden, raise free range chickens and sell organic eggs in between making art and smelling like men.

Preston at a student art show he organized for our local art guild

While Candy and I are artists of the tamer persuasions – paint, pastels, pencils, etc. – Preston, like any real man, is drawn to flame and fire and smoke.  As a child, he was drawn to pyrotechnics and once diverted a band of Blue Angels flying overhead who – while headed to a local air show – streaked over his house just moments after he set off a rather aggressive bottle rocket.  Fortunately for Preston, no charges were pressed.

A skillful glass artist, Preston has his sights set on Murano and, knowing him as I do, he will have talked his way to a working forge before we can say Dale Chihuly.  For Preston is a talker – which is why the charges were never pressed – and a natural story teller, and I can’t wait to watch him work his verbal magic in a city home to a foreign tongue.  Somehow, I know, he’ll make himself understood.  And won’t that be fun to watch?

Whereas Preston is our sea salt, Candy is my spicy cracked pepper with a taste for margaritas.  In a city of bland, Candy is a colorful bell tower, ringing out

Candy with her painting “Lady in Red”

with a deep laugh that gets me every time.  Hanging with Candy is instant cardio for the abs and I have the six-pack to prove it, though it’s hiding under an extra layer of fat to keep me warm.

Where I am short, Candy is tall, elegant, commanding.  While I sit in a home office working away while surrounded by cats, Candy is the executive director of a local museum and gets to do such exciting things as curate exhibits and plan art shows for her galleries and represent the museum on every non-profit board and city function one can think of.  When Candy speaks, people listen.  And when Candy jokes, I snort Malibu rum and Coke out my nose.

I’m planning my Venetian wardrobe carefully because I know walking in Candy’s shadow, I will have to work hard to keep up and be noticed.  She has a dressmaker’s dummy and doilies, and she’s not afraid to use them.  For the local pioneer fair which she organizes, Candy shows up looking like the love child of Daniel Boone and Sacajawea.  It says a lot that my 17-year-old daughter, Jackie, wants to BE like Candy.  Yeah, she’s that good.

So, it goes without saying that a good time will be had by all.  For how can it not when I will be joined by two creative talkers who find the humor in

Candy’s CEO parking space which Preston & I firebombed with marshmallow peeps…. it’s a long story… and involves liquor …

everything?  Whether we’re getting lost in the Dorsduoro or puzzling over an Italian menu or trying out a Turkish toilet, I will be assured of one thing – we will be living the dream together and making memories for a lifetime.  Let the games begin….

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

To start your own love affair with Ca’ Elena, check out the following link to Oh-Venice and their many beautiful apartments.  Good luck pulling yourself away from apartment shopping and getting back to work:

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/

Follow this link for more information about “Go with Oh” and to read other winning entries:

http://www.gowithoh.com/blogger-competition/?utm_source=Social%2BMedia&utm_medium=twitter&utm_content=competition&utm_campaign=SherryOtt

Me ready for an adventure