By Chris Bavender
From limestone to red brick to art deco, Indiana’s courthouses are as varied as the counties they stand in. Tours of the courthouse paintings are available during an exhibit at Conner Prairie in coordination with the Indiana State Bar Association.
“They are the scenes of innumerable historical events in each county as the years have gone by. For example, the Hamilton County historic courthouse was the scene of the trial of D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the KKK in the 1920s,” said ISBA Board Member Douglas Church, who started the project in 2007. “Viewing these paintings permits an exploration of those wonderful historical moments for all of the counties represented in the collection.”
The exhibit, featuring 41 drawings and paintings, opened to the public in January. They have been displayed in groupings based on when the county was organized. The current display showcases the final 14 courthouses from 1830-1844.
“There is a wide variety of styles. Most were built after the Civil War, so there is a very Victorian influence. But some have more modern facilities, and some are second courthouses,” said Lana Newhart-Kellen, Conner Prairie collections manager and registrar. “For example, Hancock and Tipton counties are very Romanesque. Floyd County’s is very rectangular with sharp lines, and Elkhart County emulates the Capitol building in (Washington) D.C. with the domed cupola.”
The courthouse images were created with a mixture of watercolors, acrylics and ink and pen and by professional and amateur artists selected by each county. The collection has been designated an official Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project.
“Conner Prairie is the perfect setting for the public exhibition of this collection during the bicentennial year since it focuses on bringing history to life through various programmatic and visual means,” Church said.
The free exhibit is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. It will be on display through Jan. 12 on the second floor outside the administrative offices in the atrium.