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.

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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.

Hunting for Harmonie

Located in the very southern “toe” of Indiana near the historic utopian community at New Harmony, Harmonie State Park was my first stop in this year’s quest to visit six of the most recent additions to Indiana’s park system. Established in 1966, Harmonie’s 3,465 acres border Illinois and the Wabash River on its way to a rendezvous with the Ohio. With its river views, olympic-size pool, multiple picnic areas and 200-site campground, Harmonie provides plenty of outdoor entertainment.

Due to heavy rains and flooding, my original date for visiting had to be pushed back a week until the flood waters receded. The park had only been open for two days when I arrived on Saturday morning, May 20th during a very active thunderstorm. Luckily, the storm moved through quickly and I was able to venture down to the dock of the Little Harmonie Pond, taking only my watercolor kit, a sketchbook and my camp chair just in case there was more rain on the way.

I quickly started working on a view of the pond, including one of the beautiful blue benches that reflected so well in the still water. Before long, a group of boy scouts and their leaders from nearby Evansville appeared with fishing gear and poles to try their luck at the pond. I enjoyed watching the young fishermen cast their lines and listened to their friendly banter while waiting for a bite. I was able to get a good start on the painting by the time I was scheduled to head over to the Nature Center.

The sun was just beginning to peek out while I set up for the watercolor painting activity under some shade trees next to the building. Facing the campgrounds, I was able to entice young and old alike to grab a paint set, waterbrush and an assortment of Inktense pencils, Micron pens and (new this year) watercolor crayons. Visitors were able to sit at several brand-new picnic tables nearby and spend a leisurely hour or so painting and chatting with friends and family while listening to the sounds of nature surrounding them. Around fifteen children and grownups stopped by to paint and let me take their photos while proudly displaying their artwork.

For the afternoon demonstration, I set up along the Wabash River, which was still very high and had overflowed its banks just a few days earlier. In fact, the spot I’d chosen to place my easel had clearly been underwater at some point. But, with a good coating of bug spray, I was blocking out color in no time under some lovely shade trees overlooking a scenic stretch of the river.

Just in time too, because I was placed at the river for a reason. For the first time ever, I was actually part of photo scavenger hunt. Participants had to find the artist and take a picture with me and my painting as part of a long list of clues. Not only was this an excellent way to see the park and learn about all the features you might otherwise miss, but I had the opportunity to interact with visitors and show them some plein air painting in action. Scavenger hunters had a chance to compare what I was painting and note my use of colors you wouldn’t expect. For instance, instead of brown or blue water, the surface of the river had a pink glow in the afternoon light that day, and everyone could really see that.

All totaled, I visited with about 55 guests for my first park, many of them braving the damp conditions to camp that weekend. Considering that half the state had canceled all kinds of plans for the weekend because of the wet weather, I call that a success!

Praise for Pokagon

I couldn’t have asked for a better finale to cap off my 2016 Arts in the Parks grant than my final program at Pokagon State Park near Angola, Indiana. Located in Indiana’s lake country at the very northeast corner of the state, Pokagon borders two natural lakes and was named for the last notable leaders of the Potawatomi native people, who sold one million acres to the federal government (including the area that became Chicago) for the price of three cents an acre.

The park offers two beaches, 12 miles of trails, wooded hills, wetlands, open meadows and even a toboggan run built by the CCC in the 1930s. The lakes as well as the marshes, fens, swamps, pine groves and other unique ecotypes typical of more northern regions were created by one of the last glaciers to cover Indiana ten thousand years ago. Land that was farmed decades ago has been allowed to return to its natural state, and the nearby Trine recreational area added in 2007 complements Pokagon as part of local and statewide efforts in land and water preservation.

I spent a chilly but pleasant morning painting on the pier at Lake Lonidaw, a kettle-hole lake formed when sunken blocks of ice broke away as the glacier melted. The  mat of reedy vegetation along the edges fools you into thinking this is a stagnate pond, when in reality this constantly moving body of water drops off to a depth of 30 feet. Armed with a cup of hot coffee and plenty of duct tape to keep my supplies from flying into the lake, I made good progress capturing fall foliage in oil, saw a great blue heron glide by, heard plenty of red-winged blackbirds, and engaged with a morning tour group led by a Pokagon interpretive naturalist.

At noon in a wonderful gathering area full of comfortable tables and benches outside the nature center, I received a tremendous response to my watercolor painting activity with over 40 kids and adults trying out my watercolor kits, waterbrushes, Inktense watercolor pencils, and Micron drawing pens with ink that doesn’t run when you paint over it. By far the largest turnout of all the park events, I’m pleased to say that every piece of watercolor paper I brought was used and some wonderful connections were made, including a family who just happened to stop by on their way to Ohio to see their son in college, a little girl who spent two hours on a beautiful tree inspired by something in my sketchbook, and a student from an Indianapolis art institute who is adding her watercolor painting to a school art project focusing on geography.

I finished the day at the Potawatomi Inn beach on Lake James, with the sun casting interesting shadows on the little boat house I was painting, and the brisk fall breeze spurring on the little white-capped waves that raced to shore. I had some great, leisurely conversations with curious visitors and interested painters about my painting subjects, equipment and set up. All told, I engaged with over 100 park visitors during my final painting event, with the added treat of spending a long weekend at beautiful Potawatomi Inn, built in 1927.  Many thanks to DNR naturalist Marie Laudeman and the rest of the park and inn staff for such a successful and pleasant visit; and to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Arts Commission and the Indiana Bicentennial Commission for their support throughout my 2016 Arts in the Parks grant.

My painting programs may be completed for the year, but I’ll still be painting outside whenever there’s a good day this fall (and maybe even winter) while I continue to finish the paintings I began at all the wonderful state parks I had the privilege to visit this year. As a way to brighten up bleak winter days, I’ll also be working on new paintings inspired by the wildflowers I photographed on my walks along the trails. So, stay tuned for regular updates to Paints in the Parks and thanks for following along.