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!

Advertisements

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.