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Awash in art

Charlie didn't know that, by doing his laundry, he'd arranged a still life.

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Our single-story brick home, with its simple lines and canopy of trees, is not a standout among the eminently paintable subjects in our historic community on the Wabash River in southern Indiana.

For a few days in early spring, artists from around the region gather in New Harmony to set up easels on street corners, in parks, along the riverfront, or wherever else the light, colors, and scenery beckon. The "First Brush of Spring Plein Air Paint Out" is a favorite event of mine, and of many here. The artists gravitate toward the town's Victorian mansions, or the log houses, wattle and daub constructions, and brick dormitories erected by the early 19th-century Harmonists, a religious sect from Germany that established the town as a pioneer utopia.

Some set up by fountains, labyrinths, sculpture parks, and the town's iconic roofless church, all set off by profusions of flowers. A huge stone granary dominates one block, 19th-century geologist David Dale Owen's cupolaed laboratory (modeled after the Smithsonian Institution) pokes prettily over a garden wall on Church Street, and the quaint, low-spiking skyline of the Victorian downtown begs to be painted. Two structures much in favor this year were a little green footbridge crossing the pond behind the inn, where graceful white swans posed shamelessly, and the lovely old humped bridge linking Indiana to Illinois over the broad back of the Wabash, which seemed all the more poignant on canvas for its having been recently barricaded to traffic and its likely permanent fade into transportation history.

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