Spooktacular Fun at Summit Lake

Paints in the Parks’ final park visit for 2018 took place on a very cold day at Summit Lake State Park near New Castle, Indiana, where I painted some colorful fall foliage reflected by the lake and had a blast offering my painting activity at their Spooktacular campground event, complete with pumpkin carving, chili cook-off, s’mores and very creative Halloween costumes. What a great ending to our third grant year!

Part of 2,680 acres set aside for recreation and flood control measures along the Big Blue River in the 1970s, Summit Lake’s 800-acre lake attracts woodland animals and 100-species of birds in addition to providing a home for bass, sunfish, crappies and yellow perch. Established as Indiana’s 19th state park in 1988, Summit’s name comes from its location at one of the highest elevations in the state. The park is also home to Zeigler Woods, a preserve that presents a rich variety of native flora and fauna that could be found in abundance before the area’s development in the 1800s.

In the frigid morning light, I set up my easel at one of the three boat ramps near the park’s boat rental and docks. Even though I had trouble feeling my fingers enough to hold a paintbrush, I enjoyed seeing the first flush of fall color reflected in the lake from trees along the shore. Our unusually late autumn had me itching to add some reds and oranges to all the green that I’d been painting for months. A few hardy souls ventured out in the frosty air, particularly fishermen who quickly and efficiently launched their watercraft into water that was much warmer than the cold air above it, creating misty clouds that floated above the surface like ghosts in keeping with the day’s Halloween theme.

A few hardy souls chatted with me as I struggled with my water-mixable oil paint that becomes very gooey in cold weather. While traditional oil painters can work outside in freezing temperatures without too much trouble as long as they avoid frostbite, I found out the hard way that the morning’s 38 degrees pushed the limits with medium that is water-based. That’s okay though, because my indoor studio is always available when the weather turns cold!

After a good start on a view of the shoreline’s fall foliage, I spent the rest of the day at the campground naturalist’s site, strategically located right next to the chili cook-off and a crackling fire for hand-warming and s’mores making. I offered my watercolor painting activity as part of Summit Lake’s annual Spooktacular campground weekend where prizes are given for the best-decorated campsite, the tastiest chili, and the most creative carved pumpkins. As the sun came out to stay and the day grew warmer, costumed crowds gathered to sample a long lineup of crockpots filled with spicy family recipes, construct messy chocolate and marshmallow confections, vote on the crazily creative carved pumpkins, and even test out my large array of art supplies to paint their own spooky postcards full of ghosts, ghouls and greenery.

I especially enjoyed watching artists working on several picnic tables provided by the park while sporting all kinds of costuming, from monarchs to kitchen mops (yes, really). Participants’ outfits and face paint added an amazing kaleidoscope of color to match the splashes of creativity on their canvases.  At the end of a very successful few hours before the park closed the roads for their trick-or-treat parade, over 80 park visitors had stopped by our special canopy and table, with 50 children and adults creating art despite all the other wonderful diversions going on at the same time!

My fingers and heart were certainly warmed up by the time we drove off into the sunset of another fulfilling year with Indiana’s Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant program. As always, I’m very grateful to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Arts Commission for making this program possible. And a special thanks to everyone who participated or stopped by in 2018–your smiles at the end of the day make our park visits endlessly worthwhile!

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Art and Bison Over at Ouabache

In September, Paints in the Parks traveled to Ouabache (pronounced O-ba-chee) State Park near Fort Wayne, Indiana, to help the park celebrate National Public Lands Day and the re-opening of their fire tower. Once home to the Miami tribe who lived along the banks of the Wabash River, the park was also once known as the “Greatest Wildlife Laboratory in the United States” with a game preserve program that raised pheasants, quail, raccoons and rabbits. Nowadays, one of the park’s main attractions is the bison exhibit with a healthy herd that is accessible to the public.

The area that includes the park was rapidly settled in the mid-1800s and cleared of its mature timber for farming to the point that the land became severely eroded. After being acquired and operated as the Wells County State Forest and Game Preserve in the early 1930s, the area was eventually restored with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration, programs that constructed buildings and shelters, planted a nursery and developed the game preserve. When the game-raising program was phased out, the park was renamed Ouabache and designated as a state recreation area in 1962, officially becoming a state park in 1983. As well as 25-acre Kunkel Lake, the fire tower and the bison exhibit,  Ouabache offers a modern campground, tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas, playing fields and an asphalt bike trail that follows the Wabash River along the southern edge of the park.

After some very hot weather during the week, temperatures suddenly plunged on the day of our visit and I found myself having to acclimate quickly while bundled up in many layers as I painted on a beach by the lake in a stiff morning breeze. While no one was boating or fishing that morning, a few painters came down to watch me capture the little island close to the beach house. I had some great conversations about my set up, the kind of subject I choose and how I build the painting (after a rough outline with pencil or paint, I usually start with the sky).

After a couple hours of conversation and painting, I moved on to a prime spot next to the bison exhibit, where I spent the rest of the day offering my hands-on painting activity across the road from the remodeled fire tower that had just reopened that morning. All day long, visitors could scale the tower and take in the amazing 360-degree view. There was even a quiz game that the park staff sponsored in the afternoon that involved climbing the fire tower steps.

While I was hoping that at least a few of the bison would wander close enough for me to crank out a quick pastel sketch, the buffalo had other ideas. A few young males did camp out for most of the day in a corner of the enclosure farther down the path, close enough to pose for visitors’ photos while they snoozed. I managed to run down and take enough photos for a sketch at home. Needless to say, there were lots of bison that showed up in the watercolors that day, with the living subjects within view in the distance.

Despite the unseasonable cold, we interacted with 90 visitors and had 50 artists participate in the painting activity! Another very successful Paints in the Parks event with the continued support of the park staff, the Indiana DNR and the Indiana Arts Commission through the Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant program. I couldn’t keep spreading the create art outside message without their support and the willingness of countless park visitors to paint in the parks with me.

Wonderful Watercolors at Whitewater Memorial

In August I spent a lovely day along the banks of Whitewater Memorial State Park’s beautiful lake located south of Richmond, Indiana, close to the Ohio state border. Established in 1949 to honor those who served in World War II, Whitewater has the distinction of being the only state park purchased with funding raised by the citizens in four Indiana counties, making it truly a park for the people. The 200-acre manmade lake is surrounded by wooded rolling hills, steep ravines and an impressive dam that provides access to neighboring Brookville Reservoir.

I began the day on a bluff overlooking Whitewater Lake near one of the many shelters available for picnics and gatherings. The Saturday I visited,  members of a big family reunion walked over to engage with me about my painting demonstration set up in view of the water through an opening in the trees. I was grateful for shade on this hot summer day not only for comfort but also to help with the sun’s glare that can distort my paint colors. I was also situated along one of the trails and roads that follow the shoreline, so I was easily accessed by park guests driving cars, riding bikes and hiking.

At noon, I moved to the bathhouse near the park’s swimming beach which again provided plenty of shade on a covered patio overlooking the beach. The upper level was under construction and will become the future site for Whitewater’s nature center. Besides swimming, there are plenty of opportunities to fish, camp and ride horses along miles of bridle trails. While we were painting, all kinds of boats and watercraft floated by and many bird species flew over or landed in the water.

Another large family reunion stopped by my painting activity after swimming and showers to try out the water brushes and paint supplies. I was thrilled to see so many crowding the picnic tables to paint while one young lady softly played her ukulele.  In all, fifteen young people had fun with watercolors with as many adults cheering them on and assisting the littlest artists. We gathered for a great group photo thanks to one of the moms who miraculously organized everyone to stand still, smile and even display their artwork all at the same time!

The final stop was once again located in a shady spot next to the boat rental shop, with a rack of kayaks on display and an enticing dock that I couldn’t resist painting in pastels on one of my ampersand pastel panels. I was particularly attracted to the bright reflected flush of gold foliage on the opposite shore, a reminder even on a hot day in August that autumn is just around the corner. The steady stream of boaters leaving or returning with their rentals gave me plenty of opportunities to show my work for the day and discuss the merits of creating art outside.

It was a perfect way to wrap up a relaxing day of creating art and connecting with over 60 visitors. Paints in the Parks was also honored to be the first Arts in the Parks event held at Whitewater Memorial State Park, making this visit a special one to remember.

A Terrific Time at Tippecanoe

What do triathletes, a famous furry celebrity and a plein air painter have in common? We were all present for a fun Saturday in July at Tippecanoe State Park, located north of Logansport, Indiana. The day began with a triathlon race with a finish line on the banks of the Tippecanoe River that runs seven miles along the eastern border of the park, and ended with a 75th birthday celebration of the park’s establishment in 1943, including cake and an appearance by Smokey the Bear!

I began my day by painting a bucolic scene at the river overlook near the park’s expanding nature center and close to the finish line for the triathlon. While we waited for the first race participants to float into view, I captured the waterway that was a major highway for the Potawatomi who called this area home and the French fur traders who came from Canada seeking beaver pelts in exchange for blankets, utensils and other goods. By the 1800s settlers cleared the land for farming and grazing. In the 1930s the U.S. Department of the Interior acquired over 7,000 acres which were not well-suited for agriculture along the Tippecanoe and eventually designated most of it as a Fish and Wildlife area. The remaining 2,761 acres that lie east of US 35 are still part of the state park.

By the time I made good progress on my oil painting and was ready to move on to my painting activity, I’d visited with plenty of park guests who were rooting for race participants and watching them paddle down the river, including the first finishers who stopped by while eating post-race snacks and catching their breath. The weather was perfect for paddling and painting that day, and I couldn’t have asked for better.

The remainder of my visit took place under shady trees in the front lawn of the nature center, where Paints in the Parks had stiff competition from a blacksmith demonstration, a letter-writing activity in honor of veterans serving in WWII during the time when this park was founded, and even a bounce house! Nevertheless, we had a steady stream of visitors all afternoon, who took advantage of a beautiful Saturday afternoon to relax at picnic tables and paint. Smokey the Bear even stopped by, but I couldn’t convince him to ply his artistic talents because he was too busy getting the word out about fire safety for our national forests.

All in all, I engaged with over 80 park guests who were camping, biking, hiking or racing in the park that day, while enjoying the river views and interacting with knowledgeable staff and exhibitors. Tippecanoe River State Park may be off the beaten track and interstates, but it is truly a hidden gem that is worth the drive through country roads and quaint Indiana towns. I know I’ll be returning for my own relaxing visit someday soon.

Melodies at McCormick’s Creek

Situated near the White River south and west of Indianapolis, the deep woods and canyons of Indiana’s oldest state park rang with the happy tunes from the art fair’s soundstage along with laughter and cheerful conversations from painting participants in June. Formerly the hunting grounds of the Miami, McCormick’s Creek was dedicated on July 4, 1916 when its rugged canyons, waterfalls and surrounding acres became the first state park as part of Indiana’s centennial celebration.

Since I used to live nearby, I had visited before and enjoyed returning once again to offer my June Paints in the Parks program and stay at the beautiful Canyon Inn. Besides its picturesque natural features, the park offers a scenic stone bridge, shelter houses and a fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, in addition to a modern campground, nature center and swimming pool.

I began the morning’s painting demonstration at the Falls Overlook not too far from the Canyon Inn, where I painted the falls formed in the limestone by glaciers long ago while chatting with over fifty visitors. Many were making their way to the bottom of the falls for a refreshing climb on the rocks on a very hot June day. I made a good start to my painting by capturing the tricky flows of water and many colors of the rock, surrounded by all the greens in the overhanging trees.

Around noon, I made my way to the Nature Center where I shared space with the park’s annual art fair of local artists and musicians, many of whom I was privileged to meet and discuss art with over the course of the afternoon. A couple of picnic tables in the shade of the building provided a perfect spot to paint and listen to the wide variety of music floating by from the soundstage, from bluegrass to Cuban! Over forty visitors either painted or helped younger family members paint at the tables or in the nature center where displays provided more subject matter. I noted that many trees and blue skies were created on that sunny June Saturday.

In all, I interacted with over 100 park visitors and met many talented creators at the art fair. Nothing beats making art to the sounds of nature and live music. We packed up just before a big thunderstorm that had been building all afternoon hit. It was the perfect ending, I thought, to my return to one of my favorite parks, with water in another form falling to the sounds of thunder.

Enchanting Chain O’ Lakes

The first painting event of my third year focusing on waterscapes at Indiana’s state parks began with a bang over the 2018 Memorial Day weekend. Located in lake country a little northwest of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the park’s feature attractions are based on a series of nine connected kettle lakes formed by the action of Ice Age glaciers.

Dedicated in 1960, the park wins the prize for most unusual shape based on those kettle lakes (two miles wide and four miles long). Within its 2,718 acres, there’s plenty to do, including hiking 23 miles of forested trails, boating and fishing the lakes (electric-motors only), touring the historic one-room schoolhouse, exploring the nature center, swimming at the park beach or camping at the large 400-site shaded campground.

I spent a very pleasant morning on the shores of Sand Lake in between the fishing pier and the nature center painting the perfectly calm water with glasslike surface reflections. Of course, all that changed within an hour or so, when the breeze picked up and many kayaks and canoes began to paddle through, touring nine of the 13 lakes carved from rivers of water from the glaciers’ melting ice thousands of years ago.

By the time I was ready to move on to the painting activity, I had enough work to show the hiking group led by interpretive naturalist Kaitlyn Sproles, who provided all the hikers with color chips to match items seen on their nature walk. I give Kaitlyn all the credit for an inspirational idea that I really appreciated later on when many of the participants from the hike joined my painting activity and applied their morning’s color observations to their artwork at the shady picnic area! Around fifty painters, parents and supporters participated in the watercolor activity while the swimming beach and an informative snake demonstration outside the nature center gave park visitors plenty to do.

In the afternoon, I set up in the picnic area next to the historic Stanley Schoolhouse, built in 1915 overlooking the Finster Lakes. A watercolor artist named Hannah from Fort Wayne joined me to paint the building and chat about art, my favorite topic. And another creative named Grandpa Dave stopped by to describe his ever-evolving Christmas Carny train set and carnival that is truly an artistic labor of love. Check it out on YouTube if you get a chance. You’ll be amazed by all the carnival rides and Christmas characters!

All told, I engaged with over 130 park visitors and saw many happy artists take home mementos from a truly memorable Memorial Day weekend. Many thanks to the Chain O’ Lakes staff for their hospitality and support. Indiana’s lake country is unique and full of beautiful waterscapes. I look forward to painting there again soon.

Ending on a High Note at Falls of the Ohio

 

Last weekend my 2017 Arts in the Parks grant program came to its conclusion high upon bluffs overlooking a unique landscape of barren prehistoric fossil beds in sharp contrast to the sleek skyline of Louisville on the other side of the Ohio River. In the shade of the impressive 16,000 square-foot Interpretive Center showcased by Indiana’s twentieth state park, I enjoyed painting expansive views while meeting all kinds of creative folks visiting that day.

For my morning painting demonstration, I found a protected spot on the Interpretive Center’s observation deck where hikers gathered for one of the park’s weekend tours to the fossil beds and beyond. This time of year, the dam that runs parallel to the bank lowers water levels enough for visitors to walk over to outer rock beds that are part of an island often submerged by spring floods. I learned that it’s critical for the beds to be consistently flooded to keep from drying out and deteriorating, which seems counterintuitive considering they are made of hard limestone.

For a couple of hours, I painted part of the dam built in the 1920s as well as the upper and lower fossil beds created 387 million years ago when corals, sponges, brachiopods and other aquatic life flourished under a shallow tropical sea, and were buried in layers of limey sediment that caused them to fossilize. During the glacial retreat of the last Ice Age, meltwater scoured the limestone deposits, exposing the Devonian fossil beds and providing a marvelous look at prehistoric life forms preserved in stone for the modern-day visitor.

Unlike many of my demonstrations in the parks, this particular morning I had little use for green paint since the fossil beds resemble more of a moonscape than the usual Indiana scene, even during the autumn droughts which are typical for this area. As predicted, the wind began to really pick up before noon, and I started to lose the shade provided by the building. I always bring a special plein air umbrella that can be clipped to my easel for shade, but couldn’t use it that day unless I wanted my painting setup to sail off the cliffs and over the river like Mary Poppins.

Around noon we found a windbreak for my hands-on painting activity behind some boulders near a welcoming picnic area, still in sight of the river and fossil beds, where I engaged with many visitors who were heading toward the interpretive center or coming back from a hike down to the upper fossil beds on an easy path. Overall, I engaged with 60 park guests with 14 kids and adults trying out the water brushes and painting supplies.

I also met two Louisville artists who express their creativity in very different ways.  Erik Bendl, otherwise known as World Guy, stopped to talk after collecting driftwood deposited along the river shoreline by high water. He has walked over six thousand miles pushing a large world globe for diabetes awareness and you can read more about his adventures at World Guy.  Albertus Gorman, an artist and art advocate who has an exhibit inside the interpretive center as well as an installation of figurative sculptures near the railroad bridge made from found materials deposited by the river, encourages the public to interact or add to his evolving artwork. Please check out his installations and exhibits at Artist at Exit O Riverblog.

This wraps up another successful grant year at Paints in the Parks. As I prepare my final report, I’m very grateful to the Indiana Arts Commission, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and my immediate family for their support and encouragement over these last six months of unpredictable weather and challenging terrain. I especially appreciate all of the park guests I’ve met throughout this program, who are open to painting in all kinds of conditions, and courageous in their creativity. I will always treasure your willingness to engage with nature through art. It’s what keeps me going as I continue my journey to paint in all of Indiana’s state parks. Thank you for joining me.