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Indiana Impressions: The Art of T.C. Steele

T.C. Steele
T.C. Steele with his palette circa 1920. Indiana Historical Society.

Impressionist and Indiana icon Theodore Clement Steele was born in 1847 and died in 1926. He was the most famous of the legendary Hoosier Group and a major figure in the international art world. A sought-after portrait painter who captured the beauty of Indiana on canvas, he taught, lectured and won numerous awards throughout his lengthy career. T.C. Steele’s appreciation of nature, combined with his intelligence and capacity for concentrated study, raised his works to an extraordinary level. This story of his life and work in the late-19th and early-20th centuries is an indispensable chapter in the cultural history of Indiana, the Midwest and the nation.

As part of our year-long celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial, we are honoring him with an exhibition, book and storytelling event. 

The History Center is exhibiting 43 paintings by T.C. Steele – some of which have never been seen by the public. On display in the Rosemary McKee Lanham Gallery April 21 through July 9, Indiana Impressions: The Art of T.C. Steele celebrates Steele’s artistic legacy capturing the Indiana landscape. Though his work is in museum archives throughout the country, all the paintings featured in this exhibition are held in private collections. 

The exhibition is guest-curated by noted art authority Rachel Berenson Perry, an author featured in the new special edition of The House of the Singing Winds being published in April by IHS Press. The book was originally published by the Press in 1966. This detailed account of the life and work of one of Indiana’s most-renowned artists includes a new essay on the life of his second wife, Selma Neubacher Steele. 

T.C. Steele painting "The Old Mills."
The Old Mills, 1903, oil on canvas.

This revised edition of what has become a classic work on the painter’s life and career also includes approximately 75 full-color Steele paintings from the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indiana University Art Museum and private collectors from around the state. These paintings, many of which have never been published, demonstrate the importance of Steele to the art world in his time and in ours.

The book includes the original text from the 1966 printing. In “The Life,” Theodore L. Steele provides a biographical sketch of his grandfather from his birth in Owen County to his move to Brown County in 1907. Using T.C. Steele’s journals, sketchbooks and correspondence, he describes the painter’s early training and dedication, his period of European study, and his close relationship with his first wife, Mary Elizabeth “Libbie” Lakin Steele. “The House of the Singing Winds” by Selma Steele is a poetic portrait of the artist’s Brown County period, which lasted from 1907 until his death in 1926. Former John Herron Art Museum director Wilbur D. Peat’s critique of the painter’s work concludes the volume. 

Book and exhibit made possible by a generous gift from the George and Peggy Rapp Family.

Indiana Impressions: The Art of T.C. Steele is supported by The Penrod Society.