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!

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.

Shining Waters at Shakamak

Paints in the Parks spent one of the most gorgeous days of the summer at Shakamak State Park in August. Created in the late 1920s from land donated by three Indiana Counties south of Terre Haute, Shakamak owes its name to the Native Americans who aided Tecumseh in his famous efforts against the U.S. and offers three manmade lakes totaling more than 400 acres. Recreational opportunities found at the park include fishing, boating, camping and hiking as well as swimming at the impressive aquatic center serving the needs of the farming community for miles around.

I spent the morning painting what I called “the dock to nowhere” on Lake Shakamak which is a remnant from diving towers that were used for swimming competitions and Olympic trials by celebrities such as Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller. All that’s left now is an enigmatic section of dock that underscored my plein air scene. While enjoying a pleasant spot in the shade cast by a nearby grove of trees, I visited with early-rising campers who stopped by during their morning walks to check out what I was doing.

For the afternoon I moved to the spacious brick and timber pool shelter, one of many structures built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I set up my painting activity on tables overlooking the busy aquatic center, and spent the rest of the day having some great conversations with families who stopped in to try out the water brushes and other art supplies. Many were taking a break from swimming to cool off in the shelter in their swim suits, appropriate attire for watercolors!

While Shakamak is off the beaten path, we highly recommend a trip to this beautiful park with its aquatic history and gleaming lakes. The park’s aquatic center, modern campground, family cabins, abundant wildlife and miles of trails are definitely worth a trip to the west central side of the state.

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!

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.

The Fourth and Final Paints in the Parks Schedule

The river overlook near Tippecanoe’s nature center offered an ideal spot for plein air painting.

Here’s the fourth and final schedule for Paints in the Parks as part of Indiana’s Arts in the Parks. You still have six more chances to visit fabulous state parks and create some art with us! This year finishes in October with an art exhibit of 25 paintings created during my four-year journey through all of Indiana’s state parks.

2019 Paints in the Parks Schedule:
Versailles State Park — 5/18/19
Salamonie Lake State Park — 6/15/19
Lincoln State Park — 7/6/19
Shakamak State Park — 8/3/19
Brown County State Park — 8/31/19
Mounds State Park (Art Exhibit & Reception) — 10/19/19

Hope to see you out in 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.

Wonderful Watercolors at Whitewater Memorial

In August I spent a lovely day along the banks of Whitewater Memorial State Park’s beautiful lake located south of Richmond, Indiana, close to the Ohio state border. Established in 1949 to honor those who served in World War II, Whitewater has the distinction of being the only state park purchased with funding raised by the citizens in four Indiana counties, making it truly a park for the people. The 200-acre manmade lake is surrounded by wooded rolling hills, steep ravines and an impressive dam that provides access to neighboring Brookville Reservoir.

I began the day on a bluff overlooking Whitewater Lake near one of the many shelters available for picnics and gatherings. The Saturday I visited,  members of a big family reunion walked over to engage with me about my painting demonstration set up in view of the water through an opening in the trees. I was grateful for shade on this hot summer day not only for comfort but also to help with the sun’s glare that can distort my paint colors. I was also situated along one of the trails and roads that follow the shoreline, so I was easily accessed by park guests driving cars, riding bikes and hiking.

At noon, I moved to the bathhouse near the park’s swimming beach which again provided plenty of shade on a covered patio overlooking the beach. The upper level was under construction and will become the future site for Whitewater’s nature center. Besides swimming, there are plenty of opportunities to fish, camp and ride horses along miles of bridle trails. While we were painting, all kinds of boats and watercraft floated by and many bird species flew over or landed in the water.

Another large family reunion stopped by my painting activity after swimming and showers to try out the water brushes and paint supplies. I was thrilled to see so many crowding the picnic tables to paint while one young lady softly played her ukulele.  In all, fifteen young people had fun with watercolors with as many adults cheering them on and assisting the littlest artists. We gathered for a great group photo thanks to one of the moms who miraculously organized everyone to stand still, smile and even display their artwork all at the same time!

The final stop was once again located in a shady spot next to the boat rental shop, with a rack of kayaks on display and an enticing dock that I couldn’t resist painting in pastels on one of my ampersand pastel panels. I was particularly attracted to the bright reflected flush of gold foliage on the opposite shore, a reminder even on a hot day in August that autumn is just around the corner. The steady stream of boaters leaving or returning with their rentals gave me plenty of opportunities to show my work for the day and discuss the merits of creating art outside.

It was a perfect way to wrap up a relaxing day of creating art and connecting with over 60 visitors. Paints in the Parks was also honored to be the first Arts in the Parks event held at Whitewater Memorial State Park, making this visit a special one to remember.

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.