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Discussing T.C. Steele

Rachel Perry
Rachel Berenson Perry, author and guest curator

The grandniece of the Italian Renaissance art connoisseur Bernard Berenson, Rachel Berenson Perry worked at the T. C. Steele State Historic Site in Brown County for more than a decade, doing everything from giving tours to mowing the property. Today, the fine art curator emeriti of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, Perry is the acknowledged expert on a variety of Indiana artists, including Steele.

Recently, she was tasked by the Indiana Historical Society with helping update a book IHS first published in 1966, The House of the Singing Winds: The Life and Work of T. C. Steele. Perry wrote a new essay for the book on Selma Neubacher Steele, and selected the paintings to be included in the book. She also is guest curator of the exhibition based on the book, Indiana Impressions: The Art of T. C. Steele, which will be at the History Center in the Rosemary McKee Lanham Gallery from April 21 through July 9.

Perry took some time to answer some questions about the book and the exhibition.

 

What is the appeal of T. C. Steele as an artist?

T. C. Steele’s landscapes of our state are easily recognized and understood by all Hoosiers. Through his paintings, he continues to help us see the subtle beauty of Indiana in all its changing seasons. 

How important was Selma Neubacher to Steele’s work?

Without the practical help of Selma Neubacher Steele, taking care of the daily chores of living, T. C. Steele would not have had the freedom to pursue his artwork. Her efforts to ensure that their beloved House of the Singing Winds and property would be taken over by the state helped to ensure T. C. Steele’s legacy.
 

How much influence did Selma have on the development of the House of the Singing Winds?

Although the property and house were originally T. C. Steele’s vision, it was Selma Steele who embraced the hilltop estate as her own creative expression. The interior décor of the house and studio are greatly influenced by her Arts and Crafts preferences, including her hand-stenciled curtains. She spent many years developing landscaping for the property with multiple flower gardens, formal gardens, driveway borders, lily ponds, and fruit orchards.

Laying out Exhibit
Perry is guest curator of Indiana Impressions: The Art of T.C. Steele.

In researching and writing about Selma, did you find anything out about her that surprised you?

Many art collectors of today are under the impression that Selma was a taskmaster, driving her husband to produce as many paintings as possible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although her strident personality alienated many Brown County natives, her intentions were always good, and the softer side of Selma came through in her letters to friends.

How did you go about selecting what Steele paintings would be featured in the book?

I had much help from Jim Ross, of Eckert and Ross Fine Art, Curt Churchman of Fine Estate Art, and many individuals to locate high quality paintings in private collections. Although there were iconic images that needed to be included, I tried to find some paintings that had not been seen by the public.

Do you have a favorite Steele painting? If so, why?

I’m personally drawn to Steele’s more moody works that incorporate a misty quality, like "Street Scene with Carriage" (1894) and "On the Mississinewa" (1895).

What is your next project?

So glad you asked. I’m writing a biography of African-American artist Felrath Hines (1913 to 1993), to be co-published by Indiana University Press and the Indiana Historical Society [Press]. Hines had a fascinating life, and his modernistic abstract artwork is impeccable.

The House of the Singing Winds: The Life and Work of T.C. Steele will be available for purchase in late April. If you would like to pre-order a copy, call the Basile History Market at (317) 234-0020.

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