Who was T.C. Steele?
In 1907, noted Hoosier impressionist painter Theodore Clement Steele (1847-1926), became the first major artist to make a home in Brown County, Indiana. T.C. Steele’s appreciation of nature, combined with his intelligence and capacity for concentrated study, raised his works to an extraordinary level. Steele was at the forefront of the state’s art movement and remains one of Indiana’s most honored artists.
Steele purchased 171 acres in 1907 and additionally 40 acres in 1910 and lived here until his death in 1926. Steele and his second wife Selma Neubacher Steele (1870-1945) established the “House of the Singing Winds,” a red barn-like studio, and hillside gardens. The picturesque landscape (and Steele’s prominence) drew in other artists, establishing the Art Colony of the Midwest.
The highest aim of art is interpretation rather than realism. Of course, one must present truth, but the highest is interpretation.T.C. Steele
In 1895 five Indiana artists; J. Ottis Adams, William Forsyth, Richard B. Gruelle, Otto Stark, and T.C. Steele were invited to exhibit at sculptor Lorado Taft’s studio in Chicago. The exhibition, sponsored by the Central Art Association of Chicago, was called “Five Hoosier Painters” and the name “The Hoosier Group,” became associated with these artists throughout their careers. T.C. Steele is the best known of the “Hoosier Group” of American impressionist painters.
Also, at the Cosmopolitan Club exhibition in Chicago that year, Adams, Forsyth and Steele joined with three top artists from each of the cities of Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati to form the Society of Western Artists. Major annual exhibitions traveled to each of the member cities for the next fifteen years.
Steele’s credentials include:
- Student silver medal at Munich’s Royal Academy of Art for his painting “The Boatman” (1884)
- Honorable mention at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris for his painting “Bloom of the Grape” (1893)
- Winner of the coveted Chicago Fine Arts Building Prize given for his painting “A March Morning” (1909) which was awarded for best entry in 14th Society of Western Artists’ annual exhibition in 1909
- Elected as an Associate National Academician to the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City (1913)
Who was Selma?
Selma Neubacher Steele is best remembered for her efforts to landscape the grounds and establish the gardens at the House of the Singing Winds, the Steele home and studio in Brown County, Indiana. In 1945 she donated the property to the Indiana Department of Conservation to established the T. C. Steele State Historic Site.
Using nature as her guide, and the hillsides as her canvas, Selma Steele sculpted acres of seasonal bloom from bare Brown County clay. Her gardens became the subject of several of Steele’s paintings. From a few packets of flower seeds, Selma’s Gardens have grown to include:
- An Allée of flowering trees, shrubs and perennials
- A wisteria draped pergola
- Heirloom hydrangeas
- Borders of fragrant peonies
- Iris covered hillsides
- Drifts of daffodils
- Rambling rock gardens
- Local limestone walkways
- A sundial
- Old fashioned roses
What can be found at the Historic Site?
T.C. Steele State Historic Site combines art, history, and nature on 211 acres of ridgetops and ravines in scenic southern Indiana. Visitors most often use the word peaceful to describe their experience of the site. Steele himself described the site as a sanctuary.
To a people these sanctuaries of the spirit are necessary for sanity and growth, and I use the word “sanctuary” advisedly; for they are places not only for recreation and enjoyment but inspiration.T.C. Steele
The site was deeded to the State of Indiana by Selma Steele in 1945, and remains virtually the same today, including artifacts, as when the Steele’s lived on the property.
In 1973, the site was added to The National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation (Reference #73000029). Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.
The site is managed and under the responsibility of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. 92 acres of the historic site is officially designated as a nature preserve, and is managed in cooperation with DNR Division of Nature Preserves.
Who are The Friends?
People like you who appreciate art, history and nature. The Friends of T.C. Steele, Inc. is a non-profit support group of volunteers, dedicated to preserving and developing one of Indiana’s most scenic and historic places. The diversity of the Friends membership speaks to the variety awaiting discovery, at T.C. Steele State Historic Site. You too can make a difference!