Continuing to focus on Hoosier historic sites, my 450th column is about Brown County’s T. C. Steele State Historic Site.
Theodore Clement Steele, Indiana’s best-known artist, was born in Owen County in 1847. After studying at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts, Steele and his family settled in Indianapolis, where he earned a living painting portraits for $500 (about $16,000 today). However, his passion was for plein air (outdoors) painting and his impressionist landscapes gained widespread acclaim. In 1907, he moved with Selma, his second wife, to the House of the Singing Winds, a studio/residence featuring high ceilings and porches he built on a remote hilltop 10 miles south of Nashville. He expanded the site and built a barn-like studio in 1916, where he displayed his works for visitors from across the nation. Steele frequently painted his woodlands and formal gardens Selma created on the property, but also traveled, painting from a horse-drawn wagon. Steele’s Brown County paintings drew other plein air artists to Nashville, where they established an artist’s colony.
When Steele died in 1926, his ashes were buried on his property, marked by a stone proclaiming “Beauty Outlasts Everything.” Selma, who was 23 years younger, maintained the property until just before her death in 1945, when she donated the entire 211 acres and 350 of Steele’s paintings to the state of Indiana. Today, the Indiana State Museum operates the site. A visitor’s center, opened in 2019, provides information about the Steeles and their property. The spectacular grounds, including hiking trails, a lily pond, Selma’s restored gardens and a replica of Steele’s studio wagon, are open to the public without charge. The House of the Singing Winds, furnished essentially as it was at Selma’s death, and Steele’s barn studio, displaying his works on a rotating basis, are available with a reservation and a modest fee at tcsteele.org/.