Beyond investment 

Buchanan’s Brown County Art at the ISM

Brown County Paintings from the Flanner Buchanan Collection
Indiana State Museum
Through June 16

The rare collector places more importance on what she or he likes than on what makes for a good investment. Such is the approach of the Honorable Paul H. Buchanan, Jr., retired judge from the Indiana Court of Appeals, and collector of Brown County art. In a focus exhibition on view now at the Indiana State Museum — part of the museum’s larger and ambitious “Curator’s Choice exhibition: Highlighting Indiana Art” — a selection of the more than 25 paintings and prints Buchanan has collected over the years offers proof of the former judge’s good taste. This tidy selection of Buchanan’s collecting efforts, spanning just two walls in the center of the gallery, offers a concise art history lesson reflecting that golden age of art making in Indiana around and for a few decades after the turn of the century.

Artists from Indiana and Chicago took to bucolic Nashville in Southern Indiana where they spent summers painting en plein air, capturing the light-dappled brooks and banks of trees and other flora casting dancing shadows over the largely un-manipulated landscape. Among Buchanan’s gems, culled from those displayed in his family’s Flanner & Buchanan funeral parlors — no doubt offering a bit of welcome succor to those in mourning — are paintings by the venerable T. C. Steele (1847-1926), Adolph Shulz (1869-1963), William Forsyth (1854-1935) and others enthralled by Southern Indiana’s hill country. While the secret of this beautiful place has long been out, and artists continue to flock to Brown County to paint, these early artists reflect an important art-historical context for Indiana art.

Impressionism was the forerunner of modernism, and indeed came into tension with it as artists of Steele’s generation and bent continued to paint in the landscape tradition. You could say it was a special calling, one that would not be challenged by progressive ways of seeing and painting — and is venerated yet today.

Forsyth’s impasto in “Early Autumn Light” captures trees arching like the tall necks of giraffes over a green valley, a genuine but interpreted reflection of the interplay of light, shadow, and form. Shulz’s “Brown County Summer Storm,” painted around 1920, captures a grey shroud of sky and a litter of trees electrified by the strangeness of the storm’s lights. Carl Krafft’s “At Sundown” makes peace from the white purity of winter, snowbanks lit as if from within by the sun’s fire, casting the eye down a slope towards a far-off bridge and the promised warmth of a barn and houses.

These are other paintings in this collection offer a spectrum of moods; and certainly, that is one of the hallmarks of the Brown County impressionists. Beauty as it occurs before the naked eye fosters the artist to make even more of it, infusing nature with an interpretive flourish of imagined color and light as a way of paying homage.

Brown County Paintings from the Flanner Buchanan Collection is on view through June 16 as part of “Curator’s Choice: Highlighting Indiana Art” (on view through Oct. 6) at the Indiana State Museum in White River State Park. Call 232-1637 or visit for more information.

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