In August 2020, after the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association had cancelled several outdoor painting events due to the pandemic, five members got together for a barbecue.
Those artists – Avon Waters (from Converse, pastels), John Kelty (Fort Wayne, watercolors), Curt Stanfield (Rosedale, oils) and brothers Dan and Tom Woodson (Muncie, oils) came up with an idea to call attention to the importance of protecting the state’s water resources. The result is Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation, an exhibition of 60 paintings on display at the Indiana State Museum through Sunday, Dec. 11, on the Thomas A. King Bridge Gallery.
The founding artists initially decided they would all paint scenes from the top 20 largest Indiana rivers, but by October they noticed that many of the paintings looked alike. They decided to open up their options to other locations, such as the Seven Pillars near Peru along the Mississinewa River, two Raccoon Creeks (near Terre Haute and in Parke County), and a stone bridge on the Rapid Creek near Orleans in Ripley County.
The exhibit, which features stirring images of 25-30 different locations in the 62,000 miles of rivers, streams and tributaries in Indiana, is free with admission to the museum. Tickets are $17 for adults, $16 for seniors, $12 for children and $5 for current college students. More information is at indianamuseum.org.
“There’s a sign that says Ripley County has 11 stone bridges remaining,” Waters said. “You hear about Parke County and the covered bridges, but who knew there were that many stone bridges in one county still surviving?” Waters said each artist has a different technique and used different materials for the viewer “to see the different artistic interpretations of the same waterway. Because they turned out very different.”
The artists had planned to finish 100 paintings, find a place to exhibit the work and that would be the extent of the project. But when they sent emails seeking sponsors, they found an enthusiastic partner in the Izaak Walton League, a national conservation organization, which came through with a $5,000 grant.
The artists had been considering putting out a 100-page picture catalog of the exhibit. With the Walton League grant, that became a 227-page hardbound book containing pictures of 100 paintings along with three essays on water conservation. The essays were written by Jason Goldsmith (creative non-fiction story on the White River), Carson Gerber (an essay on the history of the Izaak Walton League in Indiana and their conservation programs), and Jerry Sweeten (an essay on the 20-year-plus effort to restore the Eel River).
“As this grew and we included the essayists, the purpose of this exhibit became to bring awareness of the need for conservation of our waterways,” Waters said. “Conservation is our goal – using pretty pictures to make people aware of the underlying need for conservation and restoration of our waterways.”
The artists then began applying for more funding, and what might have been a one-time exhibit became a traveling exhibition that wraps up at the end of 2023. After Indiana Waterways leaves the Indiana State Museum, it will travel to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art from January to March, the Oakhurst house at Minnetrista in Muncie from April through Labor Day and the Hoosier Salon in New Harmony from September through December.
“It started as a simple little project,” Waters said, “and turned into something way more than we thought it would be.”
ARTWORK ABOVE: Dusk on the Flatrock by Avon Waters is a pastel which can be seen as part of the Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation, at the Indiana State Museum.