Art Term Tuesday: Artist Colony

Kaitlin Binkley, Marketing Coordinator

The Ideal Sketching Ground: Prints by the Artists of Brown County exhibits the artworks of various artists drawn to one area in southern Indiana in the early 1900s. We highlighted one of the artists, Evelynne Bernloer Daily Mess, in a past Treasures from the Vault! In the little town of Nashville, IN, an artist colony was born and continues to thrive. What is an art colony? Why do artists gather together in them? Can I join? Let’s find out in today’s Art Term Tuesday!

The composition is made up of bright purple lilac bushes with a wood fence around them. Cleaving through the bushes is a dirt trail.
Why do you think the artist was inspired to create this image? Gustave Baumann, German-American, 1881-1971. A Lilac Year. Color woodcut, 1949. Collection of Brown County Art Gallery and Dr. Robert Sexton. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Artist colonies are places where creative people gather together to live, work, and engage with one another. European art colonies flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries when thousands of artists departed the crowded, industrializing cities for the countryside. Many collapsed, like much of Europe, after World War I and World War II. Though some survive today, they are different from the towns that originally inspired their famous inhabitants. American art colonies, like the one in Brown County, mostly began on the verge of the 20th century. The Provincetown Art Colony in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is one of the earliest colonies in the US, forming in 1899, and still attracts artist today.

Some artists you might know were heads of their colony, like Claude Monet who lived in Giverny, France. He settled there in 1883 and his continued presence in the town inspired other artists who admired his work to spend time near him. Almost 40 years later, in 1967, Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell would buy property in Vétheuil, France, just outside Giverny, because of its connection to Monet. Gathering together like-minded, creative people was the lure that grew otherwise small towns into cultural meccas; though that was not the only reason colonies were formed. Many artists are drawn to certain areas of the country because of the weather, the light, and the scenery the location offers. Brown County, Indiana was well located for quiet reflection and creation, but not so far away from the art hubs of Detroit and Chicago that artists were not able to sell their newly created work to collectors. Remember, this is before the advent of the Internet and the rise of online art markets and galleries.

In modern artist colonies there is often an application process to join, as there are many artists and limited space to work and live. Typically, an accepted artist is allowed to stay in the colony for a set period of time, called a residency. A residency can be as long as a year or as short as just a few weeks. During this time, the artist is afforded many of their supplies, materials, the use of a studio space, and living arrangements. Many residency programs are geared towards a particular medium or stage in an artist’s career, so the application process is rigorous and it is an achievement to be accepted. While participating in a residency or living in an artist colony doesn’t guarantee success, many one-time residents have gone on to find a place in art history. Claude Monet, Max Ernst, and William Merritt Chase were, if not founders of their own colonies, important figures in their local communities and in the larger context of art history.  

An etching of the Adirondack trail, this piece includes 19 tones of grey to create the grey/brown/black/green/white palette. It shows a grove of trees, with darkness falling in the background as you get closer into the wood. In the foreground, wooden planks span a fast moving stream to help the unseen hiker cross to the other side.
Evelynne Bernloer Daily Mess, American, 1903-2003. Adirondack Trail. Aquatint and etching, 1945. Gift of the Artist, 1950.33. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

The artist colony of Brown County is now more of a membership program, with no formal residency programs, but that is much like how it was when it was first formed.  If you get the chance, be like an early 20th century artist and journey to little Nashville, Indiana and observe the light, the haze, and the scenery that has inspired generations of artists!

Can’t make it to Nashville, IN? Come visit FWMoA and see the various artist interpretations of Brown County in The Ideal Sketching Ground: Prints by the Artists of Brown County through August 4th.

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