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The Brown County Art Colony

One of Indiana’s greatest contributions to American art history was the art colony that existed in the early 1900’s in Brown County, Indiana. 

Around the turn of the century, artists began to visit Brown County, Indiana to paint its unspoiled natural beauty.  The artists who first arrived in Brown County --- artists like Adolph and Ada Shulz, Theodore Clement Steele, and Louis Oscar Griffith ---  usually stayed for the summer and early fall and often stayed at the Pittmann Inn in the town of Nashville.  The Inn was built in 1905 and its construction coincided with a recently added train stop in the town of Helmsburg.

  T.C. Steele and his wife Selma were the first of the artists to actually decide to call Brown County home.  They had a house constructed in Belmont, Indiana,  which is now just off State Road 46.  After T.C. Steele’s death in 1926, Selma donated the property to the state of Indiana.  Today it is operated as a historical site and can be visited during most of the year.   

In 1917, Adolph and Ada Shulz decided to make Nashville their permanent home.  With more and more artists visiting Nashville, it was turning it into a full-fledged art colony,  comparable to those in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico; Lyme, Connecticut; Estes Park, Colorado; and Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Some of the artists liked Brown County enough to stay.  Many moved on.  Some of those who stayed were Gustave Baumann, C. Curry Bohm, V.J. Cariani, Marie Goth; Carl Graf and Genevieve Goth Graf; Louis Oscar Griffith; Glen Cooper Henshaw; Georges LaChance; Will Vawter, who was known for his illustrations of the poet James Whitcomb Riley’s books; and Edward K. Williams.

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In 1926, eight artists came together to form the Brown County Art Gallery Association.  The group’s first gallery was located in a remodeled store building in Nashville. In 1954, the artists built a new gallery which was destroyed by a fire in 1966.  Many of the gallery's important paintings were destroyed in this fire.  Another building was built on the same site and opened in 1968. The land on which the gallery stands was given to the association by Adolph Shulz.  The Gallery still exists today and has a fantastic permanent collection with exemplary works by most of the early artists.  The Gallery also hosts the Glen Cooper Henshaw Collection.

One artist, who was sometimes chastised for not being an artist at all, was the photographer Frank Hohenberger.  Hohenberger wrote a column for the Indianapolis Star called, "Down in the Hills O'Brown County." The column was accompanied by his photographs, often of nature and the local rustics.  He also documented a lot of the changes that were taking place in Brown County as it became better known and more traveled to as a tourist destination.  

Today Brown County is primarily a tourist destination.  During the autumn, with the changing of the leaves, the village of Nashville swells with shoppers, and bumper-to-bumper traffic is not uncommon    It’s certainly not as peaceful as it once was in what the early artists called “Peaceful Valley,” but there is still an art colony in Brown County.   In fact, an ad campaign was recently started to promote Brown County as “The Art Colony of the Midwest.”   Artists like Patricia Rhoden Bartels, June Bryan, Tim Greatbatch, Norene Mara, Fred Rigley, Pat Siddiq, and many others continue in the tradition of the early Brown County artists and constitute today’s Brown County art colony.  

Located in Bloomington, Indiana, near Brown County.

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