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The Artists of Brown County
Once all but lost to civilization, Brown County became a mecca to artist from all over the United States in the early 1900's. "The Art Colony of the Midwest" was one of six major art colonies that were founded around that time throughout the country.
T.C. Steele, who could be remembered as one of the most prominent landscape artists to portray Brown County's overwhelming natural surroundings, was one of the first to explore the back woods of the awe-inspiring county. Steele first discovered Brown County in 1906, and later moved there with his wife in August 1907. They built a house that became known as the "House of the Singing Winds". Steele would wake up each morning by 4:00 a.m., grab his supplies, and start his long hike into the woods to get the first glimpse of morning on his canvas. One of Steele's favorite subjects was his wife Selma's flower gardens. Actually one of his last paintings was an unfinished painting of peonies from one of her gardens. The painting still rests on the same easel today at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site as when Steele passed away in 1926.
Gustave Baumann discovered Brown County while looking for new and interesting places to portray in his prints. Gus was a woodblock printmaker whose first interests were becoming an engraver and commercial artist. Brown County became a place where Gus could pursue his artistic ability but also close enough to Chicago if needed to support himself with commercial work. When Gus first lived in Nashville, he did not own his own press to make his prints. When he would finish a hard carved wood block, he took it to the local newspaper that let him use an old Washington hand press.
Photographer, Fran Hohenberger made the residents of Brown County known. Other artists came for the stunning landscape, but not Frank. His most well known photograph is of the "Liar's Bench." This photograph was taken in front of the Brown County Courthouse and contained a group of men sitting on a bench with turned heads toward an attractive woman. Frank was a columnist for the Indianapolis Star. "Down in the Hills O'Brown County" became a regular column that featured stories as well as photographs of the county residents in 1923.
Adolph Shulz started making regular trips to Brown County in 1900 after reading an article about the place in a Chicago newspaper. He eventually moved to Nashville with his family, which included another well-known artist Ada Walter Shulz, in 1917. On his first visit, Adolph took a tour by horse and buggy and called the alluring countryside a painter's paradise. Adolph was another landscape artist that was able to capture the beauty of Brown County's country setting. Adolph is considered the founder of the Nashville art colony.
T.C. Steele introduced Carl C. Graf to Brown County. Graf was an aspiring young landscape artist that had a studio in Indianapolis, and Steele wanted him to experience first hand the overwhelming beauty of the Peaceful Valley. At first, Graf did not make his home in Nashville, but preferred to set up his tent and work out of his truck. It was not an uncommon scene for the locals to see Graf, who stood 6 feet 6 inches tall, in his tent in the middle of the woods or fields.
Marie Goth, originally from Indianapolis, moved to Brown County with her sister Genevieve. Marie was an excellent painter of portraits. She always insisted that her subjects come to her studio for the sitting. They didn't seem to mind because they always came. By the time she passed away, Marie had painted several prominent Indiana residents. Marie was the only woman in Indiana to paint an official portrait of a governor. After her death she donated her property, most of her money, and her considerable collection of painting to Brown County Art Guild to show her appreciation of the county she loved. Marie and another famous Brown County artist, V.J. Cariani, experienced a love that was not held together by a marriage license but by an adoration for painting.
V.J. Cariani was originally from Italy and moved to the United States in the early 1890s at the age of three. Throughout his life he showed artistic talent and ended up attending the Art Students League where he met Marie. They fell in love instantly and spent mostly all of their time together. Cariani was a landscape artist, which made Brown County a perfect location for his work. Cariani enlisted in the army when the First World War broke out because he wanted to show his patriotism to his country. During the war Cariani experienced the bloodiest battles. When he returned he was suffering from shell shock and didn't have any urge to paint ever again. Marie thought it was her mission to cure him, so she suggested a trip to Brown County. Cariani was rejuvenated and he had Marie to thank. Cariani loved to garden around the house, and when he felt the need to relax, he and Marie would go out and paint lovely flowers surrounding their home. Marie and Cariani lived together until the neighbors gossip became too much and Cariani built his own home across a small ravine, but he still spent all of his time with Marie. Marie was a very independent person and she didn't want to get married because she would have to give that up. Until his death Cariani painted, gardened and took care of Marie. He felt that he owed her his life for bringing him to Brown County.
Glen Cooper Henshaw made his summer residence in Brown County in 1941. He purchased the Odd fellows building, which had been owned by Frank Hohenberger some twenty years earlier. Henshaw was a painter of portraits and cityscapes, and most said that he was a poet on canvas. He was originally born in Indiana, but later moved to the East coast after studying in Europe. While in Paris, he discovered his style to be the freer spirit of impressionism. While living in Brown County, Henshaw mostly painted portraits, but few landscapes. Henshaw died at the age of 62. After his death, 85 of his 400 oils and pastels were kept as a memorial in the Odd Fellows Building and then alter moved to the Brown County Art Gallery. While the paintings were on display, the gallery was set fire to by some teenagers. Most of Henshaw's paintings were destroyed. Today, a special room set aside for Henshaw's permanent collection can be found at the Brown County Art Gallery. The collection consists of many paintings that survived the fire and others that have been donated to the collection.
Once, only known by few, Brown County was a retreat from everyday life for some well-known artists. Some artists came here for relaxation, others came for new scenery and some came just to see what all the fuss was about. The landscape has changed some but not enough to make artists stop coming to this magnificent little town. Today Nashville is home to many artists of all different techniques and styles.