Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
55.88 cm x 101.6 cm | 22 x 40 in
Signed and dated lower right, private collection
T.C. Steele painted in small towns such as Vernon, Metamora, and Brookville, Indiana. This area in southeastern Indiana, is often referred to as the Whitewater Valley.
The scene depicts daily life in the nineteenth century in every small town in Indiana. Children were sent to fetch the family livestock, from the village commons, where they had been left to graze in the morning. There had always been a “Commons” in Vernon on the east side of town that was set aside for public use in 1827 by the town founder Jon Vawter, never to be developed.1
The Whitewater Valley region was created by the melting Wisconsin ice cap starting about 21,000 years ago, forming the 101 mile-long (163 km) Whitewater River. The river formed a natural trade route for Native American and early settlers. Trading was further enhances in the 19th century with the construction of the Whitewater Canal paralleling the river from north of Connersville, Indiana to the Ohio River.
Steele arrived for his session at Vernon on June 28, 1892.2 “Rather than take the train that year, he and his son Shirley hitched the family horse, Frank, to their wagon and made the sixty-mile trip by country road.”2
Later, in 1896, to facilitate his outdoor painting excursions, Steele designed a horse-drawn studio-on-wheels in 1896. One of his first trips in the contraption was with his wife, Libbie (Mary Elizabeth Lakin Steele), and daughter, Daisy (Margaret), to Metamora in the Whitewater Valley.3
The beauty of the Whitewater Valley prompted T.C. Steele and J. Ottis Adams in 1898 to purchase a home, known as the “old Butler House” on the banks of the Whitewater River’s east fork in the village of Brookville. The home was later renamed The Hermitage by Libbie Steele, and the building was quickly renovated with a central space for library, dining area and living room, and north and south wings added for studios.3
Both Steele and Adams were convinced that they would never run out of painting subjects in the Whitewater Valley and The Hoosier Group painted in this area for several years.
The Passage: Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905
The painting Summer Days at Vernon was used at the Jacket Illustration for The Passage – Return of Indiana Painters from Germany: 1880 – 1905
The Passage traces the progress of a generation of Hoosier artists who studied together at the Royal Academy of Painting in Munich in the 1880’s and returned to the United States to achieve national prominence as landscape painters. Such artists include Theodore Clement Steele, John Otis Adams, Samuel Richards, and William Forsythe.
Krause, Martin. The Passage – Return of Indiana Painters from Germany: 1880-1905. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
1 The Passage – Return of Indiana Painters from Germany: 1880-1905, Martin F. Krause, curator of Prints and Drawings (retired) at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany in cooperation with Indiana University Press, 1990.
2 T.C. Steele to Libbie Steele, June 29, 1892; Steele Papers (Notes: The Passage, Martin F. Krause)
3Excerpted from Indiana Impressions: The Art of T.C. Steele, Rachel Berenson Perry