By: Alexis Burr, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, Community Health, Bloomington
In 1923 Herman B Wells (a student at the time) was photographed curiously peering over the shoulder of a painter by the name of Theodore Clement Steele. Theodore or T.C. Steele was a usual sighting on the Bloomington campus from 1923 to 1926 and could be found just about anywhere outside capturing the beauty of Indiana University with the strokes of his paintbrush.
Because Steele is considered to be a treasure for both the state and IU, “T.C. Steele’s Bloomington” was celebrated in partnership with The Friends of T.C. Steele Historic Site for the Indiana Bicentennial and the Indiana University Bicentennial this month. The celebration was kicked off on October 7th2016 with a talk by Nanette Brewer at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art who spoke about Steele’s time as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany and highlighted his famous painting The Boatman.
The talk was followed by two plein air painting demonstrations in Dunn Meadow by Indiana artists Lyle Denney and Jerry Smith and a keynote address by Rachel Berenson Perry who released a book in 2012 about Steele titled Paint and Canvas: A Life of T.C. Steele.
On October 8th2016, contemporary Indiana artists had the opportunity to come and experience Bloomington as T.C. Steele would have by participating in an “art out,” which includes setting up shop with their art supplies on campus and around the city to capture the landscape in their art.
The day started at about 7am with artist check-in where artists trekked across campus and Bloomington to set up their materials in spots they deemed inspirational enough to paint. The day ended at 4pm with a reception where artists were able to showcase their day’s work.
All in all, the events were a success both from my perspective and of those who participated. It was really awesome to see artists and Indiana residents that appreciated T.C. Steele and still see that is it important to celebrate his legacy. Those who had not planned to come to the events were very interested in the plein air painting demonstrations. It was almost as if they’d gotten a glimpse into what it would’ve been like when T.C. Steele was on campus.
As mentioned, if Steele was not found atop of Franklin Hall in his spacious studio surrounded by inquisitive students, he could be found outside. As a bicentennial intern, I spent a considerable amount of time reading through information about T.C. Steele in the IU Archives, and in books and this research helped me to put into perspective how important he was to campus at the time.
To conclude, my experience as a bicentennial intern has not only been pleasurable but almost transformative in a sense. Although I had always been interested in history, the opportunity to do research on the topic of my choice helped me on my journey to figuring out what I may want to do after graduating from IU.
The opportunity to explore the history of a university that has contributed to my growth as a person was one that I am thankful to have been offered and helped me to see the institution in a new light.