I grew up learning about landscape painting en plein air. Coming from the Catskill Mountains, a century-plus after the Hudson River School first created idealized scenes, I was schooled daily to notice the beauty of The River, The Varieties of Trees and Birds, The Animals of the Forests, The Cascade of Ranges — all nouns in capital letters. It was expected I would savor the bounty of the place — and moreover, I would take care of this gift as a treasure for the next generation, being but on loan to me. Not able to afford paints, I sketched with pencil on paper, leaving color to imagination. So it is no surprise that I take to heart and soul the Indiana University Press books created by the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association.
Plein air painting gained traction in Indiana with the return of T.C. Steele and J. Otis Adams following their studies in Munich in the early 1880s. Subsequent generations have followed in their path and are responsible for works collected in Painting Indiana's now three-volume series, including Portraits of Indiana's 92 Counties (2000) and The Changing Face of Agriculture (2006).
Developed in partnership with Indiana Landmarks and designed to foster "an interaction between visual artists and historic preservationists," Painting Indiana III: Heritage of Place (2013) takes us outside during an 18-month dedicated time frame when artists set up their easels at various sites around Indiana. They worked together at "paint-outs" or alone to depict their choice of a place with which they connected.
Here we witness the interplay of natural and built environments throughout all four seasons, thus bringing us to contemplate changes of light, color, texture, inviting us to travel throughout all of Indiana and seek out its bridges, cabins, pioneer farmsteads, formal gardens, church yards, monuments, fountains, marsh lands, waterfronts, springs and valleys. Some views are recognized as the subject of multiple artists over many years; most are newly represented.
Leafing through the 200 pages of full-color images was at first a challenge because there is no logical order — it's a random presentation with no index by county or topic or place name or artist's name. But as I visited the book again and again, I found pleasure in making my own associations, turning back and forth to compare and contrast three different versions of the Irwin Home and Gardens in Columbus. I did the same with barns and log cabin homes of Brown County. And I now feel compelled to travel to the various bridges and to pay closer attention to the sites right here in Marion County. More orderly are the essays by art historian Rachel Berenson Perry, who writes about the core values as well as the challenges and joys of plein air painting.