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.