Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on burlap
63.50 cm x 76.20 cm | 25 in x 30 in
Signed and dated, lower right
Private Collection; after being in Gene Stratton-Porter’s family for many years (81 years after her death)
This painting was commissioned by best-selling author Gene Stratton-Porter (1863 – 1924), who was a friend of T.C. Steele. Dahlias were her husband Charles’ favorite flower. This painting hung over the “fireplace of friendship” in the author’s home in Rome City, Indiana. This still life presents a central vase abounding with multi-colored dahlia blooms. The original dark green glass vase seen at the right in the painting is in the collection of the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.¹
The author’s home became a historic site in 1946, but upon Gene Stratton-Porter’s death in 1924, most of her possessions including this painting were transferred to the home she had nearly completed in Bel Air, Los Angeles. Her daughter, Jeannette lived in the home for several years, but the painting was “lost” for many decades.
Fortunately, the painting safely found its way to her grandson, James Meehan, and was rediscovered after Mr. Meehan’s wife’s death in 2015. As Monica Berg (Gene Stratton-Porter’s great granddaughter) was readying the Meehan estate for auction, the painting came to light again and was purchased in auction where it now remains in private ownership.²
T.C. Steele and Gene Stratton-Porter are both recognized at Historic Sites in Indiana where they lived and worked in their respective fields. T.C. Steele State Historic Site is located in the southern part of Indiana (Nashville) and Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site is located in the northern part of Indiana (Rome City).
Gene Stratton was a best-selling author, early naturalist, nature photographer – her aim was to inspire an appreciation of nature for readers;
“Many of Stratton-Porter’s works further contained messages of cautioning readers again the destruction of natural environments. For example, in her 1925 book Tales You Won’t Believe, the author lamented the near extinction of the Passenger Pigeon in the United States due to over-hunting, and urged her readers not to kill rare birds.”³
Her books sold 10 million copies by 1924, and provided financial independence which she used to pursue production of movies based on her novels. She became one of the first women to form a movie studio and production company, Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, Inc. Her novel A Girl of the Limberlost (published in 1909) was the story of a girl coming of age in the Limberlost Swamp. It was adapted four times as a film and most recently in 1990. This book gained such international acclaim that it was the first American book to be translated into Arabic.5 A Girl of the Limberlost has been mentioned by J.K Rowling, as one of her favorites.6 J.K. Rowling is the British author of the much-loved Harry Potter series of books and movies.
Gene Stratton-Porter died tragically on December 3, 1924 at age 61 in Hollywood, California when her chauffeured Lincoln was stuck by a streetcar in Los Angeles.⁴ She has been laid to rest at the Gene Stratton-Porter Historic Site in Rome City, Indiana.
Gene Stratton-Porter and her daughter Jeannette are both buried at the historic site. They had been buried in California, but her grandsons brought them both to Indiana in 1999².
Gene Stratton-Porter has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine twice (April 1976 and March 2020).
¹Interview, Andrea deTarnowsky, Site Manager (retired), T.C. Steele State Historic Site
²Interview with David W. Fox, Site Manager (past), Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site
³ Indiana Historical Bureau, Gene Stratton-Porter Historical Marker Provenance https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4084.htm
⁴Alton, Kathryn, and photographs by Ackerman + Gruber, “The Legend of Limberlost”, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2020
⁵Dahlke-Scott, Deborah and Michael Prewitt. “A writer’s Crusade to Portray Spirit of the Limberlost.” Smithsonian Magazine, vol. 7, no. 1, April. 1976, p. 65
6 Rowling, J.K. Twitter, 9 May 2020, twitter.com/jk_rowling/status/1259142135296798720?s=20.