The Completed Quest

 

Paints in the Parks’ final event for 2019 took place on a beautiful Saturday in October at Mounds State Park near Anderson, Indiana. Known for its prehistoric earthworks and the Bronnenberg House built by one of the area’s first European settlers, the park also offers plenty of trails, beautiful views of the White River and an excellent Nature Center where our last painting activity and art show were offered in the spacious community room.

Twenty-five paintings either finished on site as plein air or touched up in the studio were on display along with a brief description of each state park, the date visited and a photo of the scene that was painted. A flyer from every park was also provided with maps of the trails. The art exhibit encompassed all four years of Indiana’s  Arts in the Parks grant projects beginning in 2016 to celebrate the state’s bicentennial anniversary and the state parks’ centennial anniversary.

Visitors were also encouraged to try out the water brushes and other watercolor supplies provided to create art in the park one more time. Sixty participants created their own artwork on small watercolor blocks to take home as souvenirs of their visit. It was great to see old friends and participants from previous park visits as well as new faces stop by to join the painting activity and check out the artwork.

All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better finale to our four-year Arts in the Parks grant project and our quest to paint in all the marvelous state parks in Indiana. Paints in the Parks thanks the staff at Mounds and the entire Indiana Department of Natural Resources for their support over the years. This project was made possible by funding from the Indiana Arts Commission and the state of Indiana. And special thanks to all the new friends and artists we’ve met over the years. May all of you continue to create art in nature.

While this is the conclusion to our four-year project with the Indiana Arts in Parks program, Paints in the Parks will continue with our mission to creatively connect folks of all ages and experience to nature through art. We’ve recently moved and look forward to painting (and encouraging others) in the many parks and wildlife reserves in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, also home to a rich history in the traditions of arts, crafts and plein air painting.

We wish our readers a happy 2020 and hope that you will continue to follow us in our artistic adventures on this website and our Facebook page Paints in the Parks!

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!

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.

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.

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.