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.

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.

River and Ruins at Charlestown

 

The beautiful August day I spent at Charlestown State Park on the Ohio River near Louisville was one for the record books. While enjoying a flawless blue sky and crisp breeze, I painted barges on the river, discovered ruins on a mysterious island, and talked to many visitors who couldn’t believe that this was August with such fall-like weather.

Established in 1996 as one of the newest state parks, Charlestown’s 5,000-acre parcel is bordered by the Ohio which is fed by Fourteenmile Creek that runs through the park, one of the oldest unglaciated stream valleys in Indiana. Mostly open farmland or pasture at the turn of the century, much of the park’s reforestation occurred under the resource management of the US Army, which operated an ammunition plant on the property from 1940 to 1995.

For my morning demonstration, I set up my easel for oils at one of two overlooks along the Ohio near the park’s boat landing where I attempted to paint my first barge as they slowly came into view around a distant bend in the river. While engaging in some great conversations about art and life with visitors who stopped by to experience the river, we saw fish nibbling at the rocky edges and plenty of herons soaring high in an empty blue sky. No chance to practice painting clouds that day.

After lunch, I headed down a very steeply graded road across Fourteenmile Creek to Rose Island, the site of a 1920s amusement park that was heavily damaged in the infamous 1937 flood that also affected Louisville downstream. Luckily, the DNR van was able to drive me and all my supplies to my painting site across an old 1913 truss-style bridge relocated to provide access to the island. Only a few concrete and stone structures remain of the amusement park that welcomed 135,000 guests a year, offering rental cottages along the river as well as a hotel, swimming pool, dance hall, rollercoaster and zoo.

I positioned my easel at the entrance to the Walkway of Roses where climbing vines once covered the three arches that can still be seen near the foundation of the dance hall. The arches were also lit back in the 1920s providing a romantic path on those happy summer evenings before the Depression and World War II. Now, only the stone and metal arches remain, with young trees growing in between the posts and nature doing her best to hide the island’s secrets of the past. The purposes to some of the remnants remain unknown, and archaeological digs on the island have yielded artifacts from both the amusement park and indigenous people who lived in the area.

My demonstration along the trail provided a stopping point for the Rose Island Guided History tour led by interpretive naturalist Jeremy Beavins, where I talked to over twenty participants about my program and the supplies I’d brought that day. That evening, some visitors from the tour group met me at one of the spacious picnic shelters for my hands-on watercolor activity. Painting in the golden rays of the setting sun while listening to song birds was the perfect ending to a wonderful day at Charlestown, where I interacted with over 50 visitors overall.

Many thanks to the DNR staff who promoted my program and made it easy to experience the best of Charlestown. I hope to return soon so I can go on the complete Rose Island guided tour and hear the rest story.

 

A Perfect Day at Potato Creek

Despite the ominous weather forecast, I couldn’t have ordered up a more perfect day at Potato Creek State Park, located just south of South Bend near North Liberty, Indiana. Named after the potato-like roots that were once collected by Native Americans along the creek banks, Potato Creek feeds into Worster Lake, a man-made reservoir begun in the 1930s by local conservationist Darcey Worster that covers 327 acres of the park’s six square miles. Dedicated in 1977, the park’s management programs are dedicated to restoring and maintaining Potato Creek’s unique natural areas and wetlands.

I began my visit to Potato Creek on Trail 3 overlooking a marshy inlet of Worster Lake directly across from the swimming beach. While setting up my easel to the bass tones of bullfrogs, I noted the lushness in the vegetation and trees that contrasted so well with the sculptural starkness of the decaying trunks and logs. I decided to try out an 8 x 10-inch clay panel using my water-mixable oils for the morning demonstration and engaged with six visitors, including one who arrived with art supplies prepared to join me in capturing the scene.  It was a pleasure to have some artistic company and discover the same scenery through another’s interpretation.

Around noon, it was time to pack up and head toward the nature center on the other side of Worster Lake which took us through some meadows and prairie decked out in summer’s full glory. I was impressed with the size of this state park and the variety of recreational activities that its topography allows. I was informed that this particular park is a frequent location for triathlons and other outdoor challenges. As well as an extensive campground, the park offers facilities and areas for hiking, picnicking, swimming, boating, horseback riding and bike riding.

As the good weather held on, I was able to set up the hands-on watercolor activity outside in front of the nature center, where over 100 park visitors stopped by my art table, and a record 66 kids and adults tried out my waterbrushes, crayons, colored pencils and micron pens. Luckily, I didn’t run out of supplies while people spread out in all directions, including some who took advantage of the amazing exhibits inside the nature center to use as painting subjects and came back with their own renditions of turtles, owls, reptiles and even an osprey!

Several of the artists who visited me in the morning stopped by to try out my painting materials, and a homeschool family that shared my interests in art followed me to my next stop for the afternoon at the swimming beach. We settled down in a shady spot in the lawn under the trees overlooking the beach and had a marvelous discussion about various forms of art and techniques. Amazingly, the predicted violent thunderstorms stayed away as I visited with 27 park guests who were out enjoying the swimming, volleyball, hiking and bike trails. I used a regular canvas panel with oils to capture a beautiful scene on the lake, complete with a sailboat, kayaks and the bright spots of color from swimsuits and beach balls.

As we headed south in the light of a gorgeous sunset at the end of the day, I was very grateful that the weather forecasters were wrong for once, and I know that the nearly 150 park visitors I met that day were, too. As always, many thanks to the DNR staff who advertised and made me feel welcome, and the Indiana Arts Commission for helping to make painting in the parks possible.

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!