Estill Curtis Pennington
Genevieve Baird Lacer
Howard Steamboat Museum
Jack Jouett Historic Site
Wonderland Way Art Club
The views along the Ohio River from Cincinnati through Evansville and New Albany to Sugar Grove inspired such poetic feeling that the usually less romantic Indiana Transportation Bureau named that stretch of road the Wonderland Way. In 1935, poet and artist James L. Russell (1872-1937), left, adopted the name for his newly conceived art club.
However, the Wonderland Way Art Club began, in actuality if not in name, in 1906, when Russell opened the doors of his decorating-and-framing shop at 203 E. Market St. in New Albany. A diverse group of artists, from the aspiring housewife down the street to such local luminaries as Paul Plaschke, artist and newspaper cartoonist, came to Russell's Art Shop to discuss technique and color, have their art framed or take part in an ongoing exhibit. Even today, collectors will ask if a frame around a piece is a "Russell." Reading lists of contributors to regional and national shows of the time shows how enthusiastically prolific Russell and his friends were.
Russell and the members of the Wonderland Way Art Club were part of a sizable grassroots movement that embraced the new, more democratic standards of art introduced by impressionism. They felt galvanized by the freedom and possibility of art; they laid claim to it and Americanized it. Many of the Wonderland Way artists were friends who painted together en plein air, leaving us a wonderful legacy of a time gone by, both in Kentucky and in Indiana. They captured on canvas our region in the early part of the past century: mills (Blackiston, Rothrock, Wolf Pen Branch), shanty boats, barefooted children, paddle wheelers on the Kentucky River, tobacco barges and groves of beech trees, all of which are somehow lost to us except here, in our region's art.
The membership of the Wonderland Way Art Club, also listed as the Wonderland Way Art Society, swelled quickly to number over 300. Some of the more well-known artists who frequently gathered at the Art Shop included: Ferdinand Graham Walker, Harvey Peake, Joseph Krementz, Harvey Joiner, Sidney D. Crosier, Fred Shrader, Walter Kiser, Chet Neeld, Grover Page Sr. and Jr., Norvin Baker, Hundley Coolman, Virginia O'Fallan, Orville Carroll, Marshall Lane, William Hancock, John T. Bauscher – and Paul Plaschke.
-- Anne Marie Bauscher
The Ohio Valley School
We have given the name Ohio Valley School to a style of painting that flourished in the 1880s and continued into the 1920s, for some artists even later.
It is a school heavily influenced by German sources. Many of the pioneer artists in the region between Cincinnati and Evansville, Ind., were German immigrants who brought their training from their homeland with them or were self-taught but influenced by the German immigrant art they saw around them, from church decoration to paintings. These early painters were Tonalists; they were interested in communicating a mood. As Impressionist works began to be seen and copied, obvious changes occurred among the school’s painters. Hoosier great T.C. Steele originally railed against Impressionism but ended up adopting some of its characteristics.
The second and later generations shared some remarkable similarities. Many, including Kentuckians Paul Sawyier and Thomas Jefferson Willison (painting shown above), studied in Cincinnati, and many were students of Frank Duveneck. Many went to Europe to study, but they went, like Duveneck, L.H. Meakin and members of the Hoosier Five, to Munich, not Paris. There they were taught rigorous and classical drawing and modeling. They also came under the influence of Wilhelm Leibl, who promoted a rather free handling of paint and a focus on secular realism for subject matter. His style harked back to the Dutch painters and Velasquez.
John Twachtman talked of his hometown of Cincinnati when he said that the “only art that appeals there is of the ‘old Dusseldorf School.’” But with teachers like Duveneck and Meakin that soon changed.
Some artists went to New York to study, many studying with Indiana-born William Merritt Chase, a proponent of American Impressionism.
Duveneck died in 1919, while the Ohio Valley School continued to be influenced by Impressionism, then the Ash Can School and Modernism. Its days as an identifiable school were numbered.
But thanks to such organizations as the Louisville Art Association, the Speed Art Museum and the Wonderland Way Art Club, painting continued to flourish in this region.
-- Warren Payne