Tag Archives: T.C. Steele

T.C. Steele, Mother Haines and Not-So-Partly Cloudy

Not long ago, while we were camping in southern Indiana, it rained. And rained.

So much for “partly cloudy.”

We had loitered in every restaurant within 50 miles. Where to now?

Artistic inspiration struck me. “Let’s visit the T.C. Steele historic site!”

Forty years before, Clara Haines, known at our church as “Mother Haines,” had recommended it. We college students had heard she dabbled in painting, but she obviously spent most of her time starching doilies.

One brief visit to her home opened our eyes and minds. Doilies adorned tables, but paintings covered the walls. Glowing colors pulled us into sun-dappled landscapes and stark snow scenes.

Our young jaws dropped. “You painted these?”

She nodded and said she’d learned to paint from T.C. Steele. She encouraged us to see his home and works.

Steve hiking in the Hoosier National Forest.

Four decades later, we did.

We’d never viewed Steele’s Rembrandt-like portraits. Wealthy Indianapolis patrons had been immortalized by his brush, some of whom now regarded us with lifelike interest.

But Steele’s Impressionist late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century Hoosier landscapes nailed us to the floor. I stared until I needed extra eye drops. How Steele had loved his native state!

As do we.

While hardly luxurious, the Steeles’ “House of the Singing Winds,” with its Victorian rugs, player piano and stuffed peacock kept their bewildered neighbors’ tongues wagging.

Living in log cabins, the Brown County natives must have considered their new neighbors aliens. This man didn’t work — just painted pretty pictures. Whoever heard of a woman who couldn’t cook? Instead of raising food, she planted hundreds of flowers.

Though only 50 miles from their native Indianapolis, the Steeles must have felt likewise.

Yet, walking through her gardens between downpours, we saw that Selma loved her adopted home, remaining years after her husband died. Selma also moved an 1875 log cabin to her property. Knowing its history — the cabin’s owner had raised seven children there with one wife and 11 with another — perhaps Selma considered it a reminder that regardless of hard adjustments, they could have been worse!

Selma Steele’s formal gardens are designated a “Historic Iris Preservation Society Display Garden.” Visitors to the T.C. Steele State Historic Site can walk the gardens, tour the home and visit Steele’s studio. https://tcsteele.org/visit/

We bought a print of one of Steele’s winter scenes because it reminded us of Mother Haines’ similar landscapes and her comment: “Painting snow sounds easy. But I used 23 colors in that snowbank.”

As Hubby and I sat in the Steeles’ porch swing, we envisioned the Steeles entertaining other painters and students like Clara Haines, then a young mother who braved muddy, treacherous roads in a Model T to learn from the master artist.

Time and effort so well spent. Thank you, T.C. Steele and Mother Haines, for gracing our lives with beauty 40 years later on this not-so-partly-cloudy day.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What artist resonates with your state or area?