Bucolic Brown County

Paints in the Parks’ last park visit to complete our 4-year project (before the art exhibit in October) took place on a busy Saturday during Labor Day weekend in Brown County State Park. Established in 1929 as the largest park in the state, Brown County is located in the rolling hills of southern Indiana near the university town of Bloomington. During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps restored the cleared slopes of the park with plantings of black locust, black walnut and other trees to help stop erosion while building many of the existing buildings, shelters, roads and lookout tower.

Brown County is famous for its vistas that overlook miles of wooded hills, especially during peak foliage season in the fall.  That is where I set up in the morning across from Weed Patch Hill to capture still-green leaves on the last day of August. The overcast day brought a hint of autumn chill on the breeze as I worked with my oil paints and talked to visitors who stopped by on foot or by car on this busy holiday weekend. With its 70 miles of bridle trails, 20 miles of hiking trails and 27 miles of mountain biking paths, this park has plenty to keep you busy. You can also stay at their large campground, rustic cabins or the Abe Martin Lodge after your busy day of activities.

After finishing my  8″ x 10″  oil painting (I’m getting faster after four years!) in good time, we headed down the road to the Nature Center where a nature fair was underway full of informative exhibits and fun activities for the whole family. We were lucky enough to set up our painting activity next to the DNR table with a display of butterflies and milkweed seeds to plant. Its proximity also offered excellent subject matter to paint in addition to the wildflower garden nearby still in full bloom.

We had a tremendous turnout that day with 66 children and grownups participating in our painting activity, rivaling the attendance at O’Bannon Woods State Park on a Labor Day weekend two years ago. You could find artists everywhere including the Nature Center’s outdoor benches by the overlook, the porch floor and in the gravel path! Even a brief rain shower couldn’t deter visitors from trying out the water brushes and art supplies. We were really happy with our Art in the Park program’s outreach on the final park visit, and the smiles on visitors’ faces made the ambitious schedule and 23 painting activities all worthwhile.

In the afternoon I spent a couple of relaxing hours at the Hesitation Point overlook working with a pastel on Ampersand board. The gritty texture grabs the chalk pastels nicely for more intense colors in the waning daylight. Many stopped by to talk about my painting and show me their artwork. It was a delightful and fitting way to wrap up my Arts in the Parks visits.

But we aren’t finished yet! Stay tuned for highlights from Paints in the Parks’ art exhibit and painting activity held in October at Mounds State Park in Anderson, Indiana. Until then, happy creating in whatever way you enjoy.

Shining Waters at Shakamak

Paints in the Parks spent one of the most gorgeous days of the summer at Shakamak State Park in August. Created in the late 1920s from land donated by three Indiana Counties south of Terre Haute, Shakamak owes its name to the Native Americans who aided Tecumseh in his famous efforts against the U.S. and offers three manmade lakes totaling more than 400 acres. Recreational opportunities found at the park include fishing, boating, camping and hiking as well as swimming at the impressive aquatic center serving the needs of the farming community for miles around.

I spent the morning painting what I called “the dock to nowhere” on Lake Shakamak which is a remnant from diving towers that were used for swimming competitions and Olympic trials by celebrities such as Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller. All that’s left now is an enigmatic section of dock that underscored my plein air scene. While enjoying a pleasant spot in the shade cast by a nearby grove of trees, I visited with early-rising campers who stopped by during their morning walks to check out what I was doing.

For the afternoon I moved to the spacious brick and timber pool shelter, one of many structures built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I set up my painting activity on tables overlooking the busy aquatic center, and spent the rest of the day having some great conversations with families who stopped in to try out the water brushes and other art supplies. Many were taking a break from swimming to cool off in the shelter in their swim suits, appropriate attire for watercolors!

While Shakamak is off the beaten path, we highly recommend a trip to this beautiful park with its aquatic history and gleaming lakes. The park’s aquatic center, modern campground, family cabins, abundant wildlife and miles of trails are definitely worth a trip to the west central side of the state.

Land of Lincoln

In July Paints in the Parks made the long car trip to Lincoln State Park in the southernmost part of Indiana where young Abe Lincoln spent part of his youth. Established in 1932 as a memorial to the 16th president’s mother, the 2,026 acres of this state park are also home to Lincoln’s sister Sarah’s gravesite, the Lincoln amphitheater, and a bicentennial plaza with markers illustrating various milestones of Abe’s life in Indiana.

I set up my easel for the morning at the edge of Lake Lincoln to paint the log cabin boat rental that was formerly a ranger cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who also planted most of the trees and created many trails in the park during the Great Depression. My location was near the extensive electric campground, so I received plenty of visitors while I painted the cabin and blooming waterlilies with my water-mixable oils.

After a busy morning and a good start on the painting, I spent the rest of a beautiful summer day at the park’s new porch overlooking the park’s swimming beach, where I offered my hands-on painting activity to swimmers and picnickers on their way to the beach, the restrooms or the convenient camp store inside the beach house. All afternoon, fellow artists grabbed their paints and water brushes to create artwork under the shade of table umbrellas placed around the deck with a cool breeze and a great view of the beach — definitely one of the nicest settings I’ve experienced for the painting activity!

I was even able to continue work on my painting of the log cabin from a different angle on the deck and wrap up a very pleasant day at a beautiful state park that bears our 16th president’s name. During this trip, we also took advantage of a free visit to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial across the road from the state park entrance, which includes a stunning Art Deco memorial building and visitor’s center, the living 1820s historical farm, a bronze casting of the Lincoln’s cabin and Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s gravesite.

It was truly an honor to paint and walk the grounds where Abe lived and worked from age seven to twenty-one. I highly recommend visits to both these parks–you won’t be disappointed!

Scenic Salamonie

 

In June, Paints in the Parks traveled to the rich countryside of north-central Indiana to paint at Salamonie Lake State Park, a property which includes 40 ponds, abundant marshes and a 2,665-acre lake that is part of a trio of Upper Wabash reservoirs that have saved millions of dollars in flood damages downstream. Leased and managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the reservoirs’ water levels and dams are regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

While Salamonie Lake and its surrounding properties offer boating, swimming and fishing opportunities as well as a modern campground with gorgeous views of the lake, the state’s recent historic rainfall put the reservoir’s primary purpose to good use.  By holding back the amount of water released from the dam, the reservoir’s water levels were quite high when we visited, thankfully preventing the towns and cities nearby from suffering the catastrophic flooding that used to occur before this system was built.

Even though the wet weather continued on the day of our program, I spent the morning in a shelter overlooking the park’s wildlife management pond that was located above the lake’s flood levels.  True to its name, the pond and surrounding habitat were full of birds and judging by the folks who came with their bait and poles, fish too! As a gentle rain fell, folks took cover in the shelter and watched me paint the pond and picturesque dead trees that stood like sentries amid the marsh grass. Regular visitors told me about the history of the local area and the many activities sponsored by the park and its recreational areas.

After a productive morning the gentle rain turned into a steady downpour, so we relocated to the lobby of the world-class Upper Wabash Interpretive Center which contains a fine collection of interactive reservoir exhibits, cultural and natural history,  wildlife viewing and a children’s room, not to mention tempting merchandise. Just around the corner of the building you’ll also find the Salamonie Raptor Center housing live birds of prey and an extensive garden full of flowers, herbs and vegetables.

Despite the deluge outside, damp but dedicated campers and park guests arrived to participate in my hands-on art activity, with plenty of room to spread out and create their masterpieces in the center’s well-equipped meeting room complete with a sink and paper towels which we don’t usually have access to outside. The naturalist even displayed an owl for inspiration. We had a good turnout despite the weather, and there was still time to check out the live animal exhibits and the interactive model of the water management system before we left.

I highly recommend a visit to Salamonie Lake and its surrounding properties to appreciate the beauty, history and environmental importance of the Upper Wabash reservoirs as well as the recreational opportunities provided. The welcome and hospitality we received from staff and local volunteers warmed our hearts even without the sunshine that day.

Views of Versailles

Paints in the Parks was grateful to visit Versailles State Park on one of the few warm, sunny days in May. Our first program of 2019 was offered as part of National Kids in the Parks Day and a free fishing day at all Indiana state parks. While many fish were caught and released that day, many paintings were created as well.

Most of the day was spent near Versailles’ 230-acre lake built in the 1950s as an area water supply and recreation outlet. While fishing and boating are still permitted, the swimming pool complex, complete with waterslide, has replaced the lake for swimming activities. Versailles State Park also holds the honor of becoming Indiana’s first federal park in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps built the park’s infrastructure and erosion controls. In 1937, the National Park Service deeded the property to the state of Indiana to become Indiana’s second-largest state park.

I spent a pleasant  morning painting a particularly picturesque tree that cast interesting shadows against the backdrop of Versailles Lake with its fishermen and boaters. In the afternoon, I set up my hands-on painting activity in the shade of a centrally located building housing the nature center and camp store (which was very busy selling ice cream on this hot afternoon!) I interacted with plenty of folks taking advantage of the opportunity to fish without a permit in any state park this particular Saturday, and a bird watching group that gathered to hike one of many paths through hardwood forests full of a variety of wildlife, habitats, fossils, sinkholes and springs.

Despite the unusually hot temperatures that we hadn’t felt yet this year, quite a few artists joined me to paint at the table or a nearby bench while we talked about the Arts in the Parks program and their favorite subjects to paint. Many who were camping for the weekend came to the camp store for supplies, and found art as well!

After spending a pleasant few hours offering the painting activity, I relocated to a shady spot across the lake from where I’d painted in the morning with oils, and added a quick watercolor to my moleskin journal. We packed up and hit the road right before a big thunderstorm arrived to cool off the evening. As always, Paints in the Parks thanks the Versailles park staff and the Indiana Arts Commission for another successful visit to the parks.

The Fourth and Final Paints in the Parks Schedule


Here’s the fourth and final schedule for Paints in the Parks as part of Indiana’s Arts in the Parks. You still have six more chances to visit fabulous state parks and create some art with us! This year finishes in October with an art exhibit of 25 paintings created during my four-year journey through all of Indiana’s state parks.

2019 Paints in the Parks Schedule:
Versailles State Park — 5/18/19
Salamonie Lake State Park — 6/15/19
Lincoln State Park — 7/6/19
Shakamak State Park — 8/3/19
Brown County State Park — 8/31/19
Mounds State Park (Art Exhibit & Reception) — 10/19/19

Hope to see you out in the parks.

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!