T.C. Steele Home, Studio, Gardens

Location: T.C. Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Rd., Nashville (Brown County, Indiana) 47448

Installed 2017 Indiana Historical Bureau and Friends of T.C. Steele State Historic Site, Inc.

ID#: 07.2017.1

Text

Side One:

Theodore Clement Steele (1847-1926) lived and painted on property here, 1907-1926. He and his wife Selma (circa 1870-1945) established “House of the Singing Winds,” a red barn-like studio, and hillside gardens. As the leading member of the “Hoosier Group” of Indiana painters, Steele’s Impressionistic landscape paintings captured the natural beauty of the region.

Side Two:

Known widely as the “Dean of Indiana Painters,” Steele was elected to prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City, 1913. Indiana University President William L. Bryan named him “Honorary Professor of Painting,” 1922; He worked in IU campus studio until his death in 1926. The Steeles are buried on this 211-acre site which Selma deeded to the state in 1945.

Annotated Text

Side One

Theodore Clement Steele (1847-1926)[1] lived and painted on property here, 1907-1926.[2] He and his wife Selma (1870-1945)[3] established “House of the Singing Winds,”[4] a red barn-like studio,[5] and hillside gardens.[6] As the leading member of the “Hoosier Group” of Indiana painters,[7] Steele’s Impressionistic landscape paintings captured the natural beauty of the region.[8]

Side Two

Known widely as the “Dean of Indiana Painters,”[9] Steele was elected to prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City, 1913.[10] Indiana University President William L. Bryan named him “Honorary Professor of Painting,” 1922;[11] He worked in IU campus studio[12] until his death in 1926.[13] The Steeles are buried on this 211-acre site which Selma deeded to the state in 1945.[14]


Note: When citing the book The House of the Singing Winds, the reference is to the 1966 edition.  However, images of paintings cited reference the 2016 edition, which includes more color plates.

[1] 1850 United States Census (Schedule 1),  District 84, Montgomery Township, Owen County, Indiana, Roll M432_164,  page 21A, Line 11, September 5, 1850,  accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Theodore C. Steele,” Passport Application, July 7, 1880, Publication M1372, Roll 0236, United States Passport Applications, 1795-1905, National Archives, accessed Fold3 by Ancestry.com; Indiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death, 22906 (Brown County, Indiana), Filed July 25, 1926, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; "Theodore C. Steele Dead," New York Times, July 26, 1926, 15, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers; “Artist’s Body Will be Placed Near House of the Singing Winds,” Indianapolis News, July 26, 1926, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist’s Burial to be Near His Home,” Indianapolis News, July 26, 1926, 1, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Friends Pay Last Tribute to Steele,” Indianapolis News, July 27, 1926, 1, 26, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist’s Ashes Buried Near ‘House of the Singing Winds,’” Brown County Democrat, July 29, 1926, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Theodore Clement Steele,” photograph of grave, Belmont, Brown County, Indiana, accessed Find-a-Grave.com.

The artist Theodore Clement Steele, most often known as T. C. Steele, was born September 11, 1847 in Owen County, Indiana. He died July 24, 1926 in Brown County, Indiana.

[2] Miller and Guthrie to Theodore C. Steele, Deed Record 26, Page 335, Brown County, Indiana, April , 9, 1907, Recorded April 27, 1907, submitted by applicant; “T.C. Steele to Paint in Brown County,” Indianapolis News, April 27, 1907, 14, accessed Newspapers.com; “Famous Painter Will Paint Some Scenery,” (Columbus) Republic, April 30, 1907, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; (Columbus) Republic, August 12, 1907, 8, accessed Newspapers.com; “No Libels on Nature in Steele’s Paintings,” St. Louis Dispatch, January 26, 1908, 27, accessed Newspapers.com; “T.C. Steele’s Latest Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, December 2, 1908, 11, accessed Newspapers.com; T.C. Steele, House of the Singing Winds, oil on canvas, 1909, private collection; “T.C. Steele Paintings To Be at Propylaeum,” Indianapolis News, January 8, 1916, 28, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, September 17, 1919, 26, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Sunday the Final Day of T.C. Steele’s Exhibition,” Indianapolis News, December 25, 1920, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Lucille E. Morehouse, "In the World of Art: Steele Memorial Exhibit Opens at Museum Today," Indianapolis Star, December 5, 1926, pt. 3, 33, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Lucille E. Morehouse, "In the World of Art: T. C. Steele’s Life Work Shown at Art Institute," Indianapolis Star, December 12, 1926, pt. 6, p. 4, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Steele, et. al., The House of the Singing Winds, 68-86.

Before 1907 T. C.  Steele lived and worked mainly in Indianapolis and shared a summer studio with J. Ottis Adams in Brookville, Indiana. (See the state historical marker notes for “T.C. Steele Studio and Herron” for information on the period before 1907.)

Steele purchased two sections of Brown County real estate totaling over 200 acres on April 9, 1907, according to the land deed. On April 27, 1907, the Indianapolis News reported that Steele “has migrated to Brown county with his painter’s impediments,” and that “at present there is no house on this land, but Mr. Steele has made arrangements to have one erected so that he may be at work there this coming summer.” Steele told the Indianapolis News that the site was located “on one of the spurs of the famous Weedpatch range about one mile south of Belmont and eleven miles from Nashville, and is near the Monroe county border.” Steele’s many letters to his future wife Selma during the spring and summer of 1907 detail the purchase and subsequent improvements to the property, the building of the new house, and talk of their upcoming marriage.  Most importantly, these letters also show that Steele immediately began sketching and painting on site. 

The (Columbus) Republic reported in two articles during August 1907 that Steele was at work at his new home “painting the scenery of Brown county.” Only a few months later, he had produced enough work to bring an exhibition of Brown County paintings to Indianapolis.  On November 29, 1907, the Indianapolis News reported:

For several months T.C. Steele, the artist, has made his home in Brown county, and the result of this residence is shown in a most interesting collection of paintings, thirty-three canvases in all, for this year’s work, which are now on exhibition in the Lieber art gallery.

In January of 1908, at an exhibition in St. Louis, Steele exhibited several Brown County works, including a painting of his new home with the title To the House of the Singing Winds. In early December of 1908, Steele again exhibited thirty-two paintings, all of Brown County, at an Indianapolis art gallery. Steele told the Indianapolis News why he chose the property for his home and studio:

Artists who have tramped all over southern Indiana, the most picturesque part of the State say they have found nothing to equal Brown County in artistic subjects.  The place I have chosen is certainly the most broken lot of acres in the county. I selected it because it was in the midst of innumerable beautiful subjects. They are spread out around in every direction . . .

Steele continued to live and paint at his Brown County residence and to paint pictures of his property throughout his life. There are innumerable newspaper articles, many contained in the marker file, on the plethora of Brown County pictures that Steele exhibited from 1907 until his death in 1926.  For example, in January of 1916, a group of Steele’s landscapes, many of them depicting his Brown County home and the area around it were exhibited at the Propylaeum in Indianapolis. In 1919, Steele and five other artists came together to show an exhibition of Brown County paintings at Herman Lieber’s art gallery in Indianapolis where Steele exhibited a winter scene titled House of the Singing Winds. The following year, The Herron Art Institute exhibited his Brown County pictures.  A few months after Steele’s death in 1926, the Art Association of Indianapolis opened a major retrospective of his work at the John Herron Art Institute featuring over 125 paintings spanning his entire career.  Many were landscapes painted at and around his Brown County home.

[3] 1880 United States Census (Schedule 1),  District 124, Marion County, Indiana, Roll 295,  page 543A, Line 27, September 5, 1850,  accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Theodore C Steele, Selma L Neubacher,” Marriage Record, August 9, 1907, Marion County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Record 1906-1910 Inclusive Volume, Original Record Located: County Clerk's Office, Indiana, Book: 46, Page: 352, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Personal and Social,” Indianapolis News, August 10, 1907, 22, accessed Newspapers.com; Indiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death, (Marion County, Indiana), Filed August 30, 1945, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com;  “Mrs. T.C. Steele Is Critically Ill,” Brown County Democrat, July 26, 1945, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Mrs. T.C. Steele Dies in the Long Hospital,” Brown County Democrat, August 30, 1945, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Selma N. Steele,” photograph of grave, Belmont, Brown County, Indiana, accessed Find-a-Grave.com; Judith Vale Newton and Carol Ann Weiss, Skirting the Issue: Stories of Indiana’s Historical Women Artists (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2004), 360, f.n. 105.

There is some confusion as to when Selma L. Neubacher was born: October 21, 1870, or 1871, or 1872.  The 1880 census and 1907 marriage record give her birth year as 1870.  However, her 1945 death certificate claims 1871 as her birth year and her tombstone reads “1872.”  The authors of Skirting the Issue: Stories of Indiana’s Historical Women Artists note the discrepancies in Selma’s birth year and claim 1870 as the correct one, citing “family records” obtained from Lewis Lakin Neubacher, Selma’s nephew.  Selma and T.C. Steele married August 9, 1907. According to the Indianapolis News, they then left for “the artist’s country place in Brown county.”

 

[4] T.C. Steele to Selma Neubacher, May 6, May 8, May 26, June 21, 1907, in House of the Singing Winds, 69; Selma Steele, “House of the Singing Winds,” in Steele, et. al., House of the Singing Winds, 94-95; “No Libels on Nature in Steele’s Paintings,” St. Louis Dispatch, January 26, 1908, 27, accessed Newspapers.com; “T.C. Steele’s Latest Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, December 2, 1908, 11, accessed Newspapers.com; “Paintings Hung in the Library,” (Columbus) Republic, February 13, 1909, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; Alfred Mansfield Brooks, “The House of the Singing Winds,” American Magazine of Art 11:4 (February 1920): 139-141, accessed JSTOR; T.C. Steele, House of the Singing Winds, oil on canvas, 1909, Private Collection; T.C. Steele, The House of the Singing Winds, oil on canvas, 1922, Private Collection; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Steele Home” photograph, 1921, item 912, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Spring Scenes at the Steele Sanctuary” photograph, 1945, item 7, box 6, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Corner of Steele Home from Closeup” photograph, n.d., item 12, box 61, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Frank M. Hohenberger, “T. C. Steele’s Living Room” photograph, n.d., item 38, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library.

Steele purchase the land for his new home in April 1907. See footnote 2 for more information on the site. While supervising the clearing of the site and construction of the home, Steele wrote to his future wife in May 6, 1907:

 I can only wait until morning when we go to Hopper Farm. That is what the place has been called for forty years, I understand. We will change the name for that would never do for a place where an artist’s dreams are to be planted, and pictures grown instead of corn and wheat.

A few days later, on May 8, Steele was staying in a log cabin on his new property that he had renovated and wrote that the underbrush was being cleared and a team of carpenters was hauling stone for the cellar and foundation. By May 26, the home was far enough along that he sent Selma a sketch and wrote of the “wonderful songs among the trees.” On June 6 he wrote that he was pleased with Selma’s effort to plan a garden.  On June 21 he wrote that he was “finishing up” the house with stains and wallpaper and that “a soft breeze is coming and going through the trees now, and it is all delicious music.” According to Selma, this musical breeze inspired them to name their home “The House of the Singing Winds.” She wrote:

The east-side porch was screened and used as the dining room during the open seasons. Located as it was in a corner of the house structure it caught the winds, and we had them playing constantly upon the screen wires of the dining porch.  It was this that finally suggested the name for the house: “The House of the Singing Winds.”

Steele often used the house and grounds as subject matter for his paintings as well. See footnote 2 for more information. Images of two of Steele’s paintings of the house, one from 1909 and another from 1922, can be viewed in the 2016 reprint of The House of the Singing Winds.  The earliest widely-exhibited painting of the house is likely To the House of the Singing Winds which Steele showed in January of 1908 in St. Louis and February 1909 in Columbus. Brown County photographer Frank M. Hohenbeger took several photographs of the Steele home such as Steele Home (1921), Spring Scenes at the Steele Sanctuary (1945), and Corner of Steele Home from Closeup (n.d.), as well as some interior shots such as T. C. Steele’s Living Room (n.d.)

[5] T.C. Steele, Under a Brilliant Sky [Studio in Autumn], oil on canvas, circa 1915, Collection of Leslie and Gary Schinbeckler; “Brown County Paintings Attract,” Brown County Democrat, March 16, 1922, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Interior Steele Studio,” photograph, 1921, item 914, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Entrance to Steele Studio,” photograph, 1931, item 49, box 91, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Frank M. Hohenberger, “T. C. Steele’s Studio, Exterior” photograph, n.d., item 36, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Mary Q. Burnet, Art and Artists of Indiana (New York: The Century Co., 1921) 210-11; Steele, et al, The House of the Singing Winds, 116, 129, 152-5.

In 1908, the Steeles added a wing to the west side of their house to serve as a studio. By 1911, Steele also had two temporary structures on the grounds “to serve as studios when inclement weather made it impossible to work in the open,” according to Selma.  She continued in her chapter of The House of the Singing Winds:

Then some years later, just before the opening of the First World War, came the “Dream Studio” of his life. The painter had always envisioned as a studio a large spacious high-windowed room that would give him the same lighting conditions that existed in public galleries used for exhibition purposes.

Selma likely meant that the studio was completed before U.S. entry into WWI, as she recollects the studio being constructed circa 1916. By 1917, the Steeles were working to make the new, detached studio double as an exhibition space, which would draw visitors and develop local interest in fine art.

Many newspaper articles mention the Steele “home and studio,” which Slema described as inseparable by this time, and some cite some of the paintings made from the studio window.  For example, in 1922, the Brown County Democrat reported on art critic Lucille E. Morehouse’s comments on an exhibition of landscape paintings at the Herron Art Institute:

Those who have visited the Brown county studio home (and visitors are numbered by the hundred each summer) the “House of the Singing Winds,” will recognize the familiar scenes in at least three of the canvases.” “Winter Morning,” a beautiful snow scene, pictures a portion of the home ground; “To the Valley – Autumn” has been caught from the same corner of the studio home, and “Belmont Road” was painted from near the studio.

In Art and Artists of Indiana, Mary Q. Burnet describes the house and writes: “Another interesting feature is the very large studio in close proximity – the cultivating aspiration of every artist’s desire. Here the season’s work gradually accumulates and the large number of visitors that are received show the appreciation in which the artist is held.” Brown County photographer Frank M. Hohenberger captured several images of the studio such as Interior Steele Studio (1921), Entrance to Steele Studio (1931), and T. C. Steele’s Studio, Exterior (n.d.). However, perhaps the best look at the studio is Steele’s painting Under a Brilliant Sky, also known as Studio in Autumn (1915) viewable at the-athenaeum.org.

[6] T.C. Steele, Selma and Edith in Formal Garden Plot, oil on canvas, 1909, Collection of Brad and Zee Hirst; T.C. Steele, Selma in House Garden, oil on canvas, 1915, Private Collection; T.C. Steele, Selma in the Garden, oil on canvas, 1915-1923, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites; Frank M. Hohenberger, “T.C. and Selma Steele, In Field of Irises,” negative, n.d., item 299, print box 3, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Mrs. Steele in Flower Garden,” ,” negative, n.d., item 6, print box 61, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, accessed IU Digital Library; Steele, et al, 116-126; Burnet, 210; Sara Clifford, “Following His Muse: Gardens at Artist T.C. Steel’s Historic Site Being Restored,” Brown County Democrat, October 4, 2016, accessed http://www.bcdemocrat.com/2016/08/29/following_his_muse/

Selma began her garden in the spring of 1908 on “a strip of ground bordering the north terrace,” but found little success because of the sloping grounds. That same spring, she began preparing another part of the grounds for a vegetable garden. Selma wrote that “the first work for permanent landscaping was begun after the carpenters had left – in the autumn of 1908.” She built flower beds and worked to replace the thin top soil on their hill with richer soil from the lower slopes. By 1913, the vegetable garden was so productive that they were even able to sell some of its yield.  Selma had also learned to “naturalize” her flower garden, that is, combine native plants with those she brought with her. Wildflowers mixed with thousands of daffodils and hundreds of evergreens, among other plants propagated by Selma.  She wrote that “the joy in my work reached its highest peak when I found I had made flower and garden arrangements interesting enough to be placed on the painter’s canvases.” In her 1921 book Art and Artists of Indiana, Mary Q. Burnet described the effect of the home and garden:

On a hill six hundred feet above the surrounding country they have built a bungalow and studio, which one approaches by a winding roadway outlined by a row of varicolored iris. On the left is the vegetable-garden and a hedge of peonies; to the right clumps of shrubbery. Nearer the house the driveway enters great pergolas covered with scadent wisteria, fragrant honeysuckle, and climbing roses.

Selma’s gardens can be seen in many of her husband’s paintings such as the well-known work, Selma in the Garden. Photographs of the Steeles in the gardens can be accessed through the IU Digital Library.  As of 2016, Selma’s gardens are being restored by staff of the T.C. Steele State Historic Site and volunteers. 

[7] "Good Pictures This Year," Indianapolis Journal, April 12, 1893, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; "City Life," The (Indianapolis) Sun, December 31, 1894, 2, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; "Pretty: Pictures by Western Artists on Display at the Propylaeum," Indianapolis Sun, March 6, 1897, 1, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; Frank Duveneck, Wm. Forsyth, C. F. Browne and F. P. Paulus, “The Society of Western Artists,” Brush and Pencil 1:6 (March 1898): 200, accessed JSTOR; “Art Notes,” Brush and Pencil 2:3 (June 1898): 135-138, accessed JSTOR; "Western Artists," Steubenville Herald-Star, October 20, 1898, 6, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; John H. Vanderpoel, “The Society of Western Artists,” Brush and Pencil 3:3 (December 1898): 152-164; accessed JSTOR; Steele, et al, House of the Singing Winds, 40, 185-86; William H. Gerdts, “The Hoosier Group Artists: Their Art in Their Time,” in The Hoosier Group: Five American Painters (Indianapolis: Eckert Publications, 1985), 20, 26, 28, 31.

In 1893, the Art Association of Indianapolis sponsored Exhibit of Summer, a show which brought the work of Steele and other Hoosiers to the attention of art critic and novelist Hamlin Garland. Garland arranged a second showing of the exhibition at his brother-in-law Lorado Taft's Chicago studio in December 1894.  Taft was a famous sculptor and a leader of the Central Art Association which promoted art from the Midwest.  The exhibition, renamed Five Hoosier Painters, was a huge success, cementing the reputation of what became known as “the Hoosier Group”: T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, Richard Gruelle, Otto Stark, and J. Ottis Adams. On December 29, 1894, the Indianapolis News reported:

The artists of Chicago, with scarcely an exception have visited the exhibition, and all are unanimous in praising the work shown.  While little discrimination has been noticed, it can be seen that the works of Mr. Steele are the favorites.

 Hamlin Garland told the News in the same article, “The first thing I observe is this. These canvases are native . . . They are the impressions of Indiana landscapes by keen, sensitive and refined artists.”  Garland also stated bluntly, “Steele leads.” The same article reported that Steele arrived at the exhibition “to discover that he had suddenly become a famous American artist.”  Steele was also praised by Robert Vonnoch, a popular art critic for “the genius of his new brother in the world of American Impressionism,” according to the News.  Steele responded modestly: “We are greatly gratified over the warm reception of our pictures in Chicago . . . It appears that picture-lovers are beginning to like the impressionistic manner and to understand it.”

Steele’s reputation as the Hoosier Group’s leading member was influenced by his widely-exhibited and well-received work and his leadership within the Society of Western Artists. The Society was founded in 1896 and comprised of Eighteen Midwestern artists, three each from Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. The founding Indianapolis artist-members were T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, and J. Ottis Adams – all also members of the Hoosier Group. Steele was particularly looked to as a leader both by art critics and Society members. In an 1898 article for Brush and Pencil, writer John H. Vanderpoel wrote:

[The Society] must disclose in its art a vital quality akin to the force which has given character to the people of the West. It must breathe of our great prairies, with its lofty dome of wind-swept clouds; of its blue lakes and placid rivers; its hillsides and valleys in all their moods of color and form…That this feeling finds appreciative response among the members of the society, I need but to refer to such men as T. C. Steele of Indianapolis, who has fathered the ‘Hoosier School of Painters.’ There is a virility in his work that is of the soil.

According to professor and historian William H. Gerdts, while Steele was “the most innovative and perhaps forward-looking,” the group shared the conviction that their art should represent the beauty of their home state, thus contributing to a national movement to create a truly American art identity – as opposed to one derivative of European tradition.”  The art of the Hoosier Group “was distinctively of the heartland.”  For more on the Society of Western Artists, see the state historical marker notes for “T.C. Steele Studio and Herron.”

[8] "Art of a High Order," Indianapolis Sun, April 14, 1891, 1, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Studios of Home Artists,” Indianapolis Journal, May 14, 1893, 5, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Paintings by T. C. Steel on View at His Winter Studio,” Indianapolis News, December 20, 1919, 17, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; William H. Gerdts, “The Hoosier Group Artists: Their Art in Their Time,” in The Hoosier Group: Five American Painters (Indianapolis: Eckert Publications, 1985) 20, 26, 28, 31; J. Ronald Newlin, The Best Years: Indiana Paintings of the Hoosier Group, 1880-1915 (Indiana State Museum, 1985), accessed artsmartindiana.org.

Indiana newspapers were full of descriptions of Steele’s painting style and ability to capture the state’s beauty. In 1891, the Indianapolis Sun responded to Steele’s ability to capture the essence of the Indiana landscape: "Indiana had picturesqueness enough for him and he has done more than any other artist to perpetuate in the mind's eye her people and scenery.” In 1893, the Indianapolis Journal stated that Steele “is a close student of light and atmosphere and never forsakes his own impressions for the sake of any precept.” The Journal continued:

To Mr. Steele the Indiana landscape appeals particularly. Although he found much beauty and a corresponding amount of history and romance in the European, still the ‘Hoosier’ landscape dates back to childhood and affects his memories and his soul.

In the same article, Steele spoke about his technique for capturing a landscape:

It is sometimes difficult to tell what artists see that is beautiful in a landscape, but if they can put strength into the emotion he can be understood. It matters very little as to the method he used in doing it. It may not be absolute truth, but if it corresponds to his impression it will remain truth, although modified by emotion, and that is about the best definition I can give of art.

In 1919, the Indianapolis News wrote of the effect of seeing many of his landscape paintings gathered together in his Brown County studio: “In entering his studio one steps among the hills. The greens of midsummer, the mellower tones and the wonderful haze-tinged autumn coloring seem to conjure the room into Brown County itself.”

According to historian William H. Gerdts, “Steele led the way among the Hoosiers to a cosmopolitan style, to a nativist form of Impressionism, and, incidentally, to national renown for the Indiana school…” In the introduction to the catalog for the exhibition The Best Years: Indiana Paintings of the Hoosier Group, 1880-1915, J. Ronald Newlin, Director of Public Programs at the Indiana State Museum wrote about Steele and the Hoosier Group “are recognized for being part of two major artistic trends of their day – regionalism and Impressionism.”

[9] "With the Clubs," Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, December 27, 1903, 45, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “No Libels on Nature in Steele’s Paintings,” St. Louis Dispatch, January 26, 1908, 27, accessed Newspapers.com; W. H. Fox, “To Show Entire Range of T. C. Steele’s Work,” Indianapolis News, January 29, 1910, 13, accessed Newspapers.com; “Society of Western Artists’ Exhibition, Indianapolis News, February 7, 1914, 24, accessed Newspapers.com; Lucille E. Morehouse, "In the World of Art: Steele Memorial Exhibit Opens at Museum Today," Indianapolis Star, December 5, 1926, pt. 3, 33, Indiana State Library, microfilm.

In 1910, the Director of the Herron Art Institute, William Henry Fox wrote an article about Steele in the Indianapolis News to coordinate with a retrospective exhibition of Steele’s work at the Herron gallery.  Fox wrote:

Mr. Steele is constantly referred to as the dean of Indiana painters, and the seniority that term implies refers more to his quietly established leadership in the development of a popular interest in the fine arts in this part of the country than to the long period of Mr. Steele’s great service to the people.

The informal title caught on in the newspapers. In 1914, the Indianapolis News called him “our own dean of Indiana painters. Other variations appeared as well. In 1908, the St. Louis Dispatch referred to Steele as “the dean and leader of the School of Hosier [sic] painters.”  In 1922, the Brown County Democrat referred to Steele as “dean of the Indiana landscape painters.” In reviewing the Steele Memorial Exhibition at the John Herron Art Institute in December 1926, Indianapolis Star art writer Lucille E. Morehouse called Steele “the beloved ‘Dean of Indiana Artists’.”

Occasionally, and especially after Steele’s death, William Forsyth was often referred to as “dean.” In a few scattered articles during Steele’s lifetime other artists were sometimes referred to as “dean.” None were so named as widely and consistently as Steele, however.

[10] Florence N. Levy, ed., American Art Annual 11 (New York: American Federation of Arts, 1914), 239, accessed GoogleBooks; “Art Notes,” Indianapolis News, March 9, 1914, 7, accessed Newspapers.com; Diana Thompson to David Steele, June 10, 2014, submitted by applicant.

The American Art Annual published by the American Federation of Arts explained that the National Academy of Design limited the number of painters elected as academicians to 125.  The 1914 issue of the Annual listed T. C. Steele among the academicians elected in 1913. In 1914, the Indianapolis News reported that the Boston artist J. H. Tompkins had painted two portraits of Steele.  One was one exhibition in Indianapolis and the other sent to the National Academy of Design in New York City for “the gallery of portraits of its members.” Diana Thompson, the curator of 19th and early 20th century art at the National Academy Museum and School, formerly the National Academy of Design wrote to David Steele in 2014: "I am writing to confirm that Theodore Clement Steele was elected to the National Academy of Design as an Associate National Academician (A.N.A.) in 1913." 

[11] William Lowe Bryan to Theodore C. Steele, June 9, 1922, Indiana University Archives, submitted by applicant; Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees of Indiana University, October 18-31, 1922, Indiana University Board of Trustees Minutes Online, IU Archives & IY Digital Library, accessed webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu; “Joins I. U. Faculty,” Brown County Democrat, Jun 29, 1922, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist Joins I. U. Faculty,” Indianapolis News, July 8, 1922, 7, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist Steele to Take Up Studio at I. U. Soon,” Brown County Democrat, November 2, 1922, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

On June 9, 1922 William Lowe Bryan, Indiana University President, wrote to T.C. Steele:

I write on behalf of the Trustees of the University to invite you to be in residence at Indiana University next year.  Your service would be what you choose to make it. We should by no means wish to interfere in the least with your continuing your work as a creative artist.  You would have no prescribed duties. We would want you to do whatever you think most profitable for your art.

On October 31, 1922 the Indiana University Board of Trustees Minutes show that the board confirmed the June 30, 1922 recommendation of Bryan “that Theodore C. Steele be appointed Honorary Professor of Painting with an honorarium of twenty-five hundred dollars ($2500.00) for the year.” On June 29, 1922 the Brown County Democrat reported that Steele accepted a “position as honorary professor of paintings.” On July 8, 1922, the Indianapolis News reported that he “joined the faculty of Indiana University as an honorary professor of painting” and would “take up his duties at the university in the fall.”

[12] “Joins I. U. Faculty,” Brown County Democrat, Jun 29, 1922, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist Joins I. U. Faculty,” Indianapolis News, July 8, 1922, 7, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist Steele to Take Up Studio at I. U. Soon,” Brown County Democrat, November 2, 1922, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

In the summer of 1922, the Brown County Democrat reported that Steele’s studio room would be located in the north wing of the library and the Indianapolis News reported that a “large collection of his works” would be exhibited there. On November 2, 1922, the Brown County Democrat reprinted an article from the Bloomington Star.  The article reported that Steele would “have a studio in the University library, opening the first week of November and will exhibit his work there.”  The article continued:

The Brown county artist was awarded a professorship at the University some time ago, but has no specific duties or class work, being at freedom to work and give counsel in art to those students who call at his studio. He will bring with him a large number of his landscapes and canvasses for his studio, a new 30 x 50 room prepared for him on the south side of the Library top floor.

[13]“Artist’s Burial to be Near His Home,” Indianapolis News, July 26, 1926, 1, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist’s Ashes Buried Near House of the Singing Winds,” Brown County Democrat, July 29, 1926, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

See footnote 1 for sources on Steele’s death. In a statement to the Indianapolis News on Steele’s death, John W. Cravens, Indiana University registrar and board member, said, “The death of Dr. Theodore C. Steele removes from the faculty of Indiana University one of its most beloved members.” The article notes that he had been serving as “honorary professor of painting in the university since 1922, maintaining a studio in the library building and giving lectures,” and that he “was held in high esteem by students of Indiana University.” The Brown County Democrat printed a statement from Indiana University President W. L. Bryan: “The glory has fallen from Indiana since he who saw its beauty best is away.”

[14] Steele: “Artist’s Body Will be Placed Near House of the Singing Winds,” Indianapolis News, July 26, 1926, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist’s Burial to be Near His Home,” Indianapolis News, July 26, 1926, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Friends Pay Last Tribute to Steele,” Indianapolis News, July 27, 1926, 1, 26, accessed Newspapers.com; “Artist’s Ashes Buried Near ‘House of the Singing Winds,’” Brown County Democrat, July 29, 1926, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; Selma: “Mrs. T.C. Steele Dies in the Long Hospital,” Brown County Democrat, August 30, 1945, 1, accessed Newspapers.com;  “Theodore Clement Steele,” photograph of grave, Belmont, Brown County, Indiana, accessed Find-a-Grave.com; Mrs. T.C. Steele Is Critically Ill,” Brown County Democrat, July 26, 1945, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; Selma N. Steele to the State of Indiana , Department of Conservation, June 27, 1945, Deed Record 55, Page 98, Brown County, Indiana Recorded July 23, 1945.

For sources on the passing of the Steeles see footnotes 1 and 3. When T. C. Steele died in 1926, he was buried on the site, as was Selma in 1945.  The 1945 deed shows that Selma transferred the 211-acre property to the state of Indiana after her death. The Brown County Democrat reported July 26, 1945 that Selma Steele “presented to the state the home and sanctuary, which includes 211 acres a mile sloth [sic] of Belmont, with eight buildings and an art collection of her late husband, valued at more than $100,000.” Today the T. C. Steele State Historic Site is maintained by the Indiana State Museum.  The site includes the House of the Singing Winds, the large 1916 studio, a small cabin, the Selma Steele Nature Preserve, and the small Steele Memorial Cemetery. A map of the site is available courtesy of The Friends of T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

Keywords

Art & Culture