We had planned to spend only one night in Brown County, Indiana, last October. We were going to enjoy the area’s natural beauty and browse some of Nashville’s art galleries. But when we discovered that during the entire month of October artists along the county’s back roads open their studios to visitors, we tacked another night onto our visit. We spent several hours that second day visiting artists participating in the Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour. The area landscape is artwork in itself, with the October leaves painting a spectacular image in shades of amber and crimson. Brown County is an artist’s dream. It’s no wonder it’s considered the Art Colony of the Midwest.
Thank you to the Brown County Convention& Visitors Bureau and Creekside Retreat for hosting our stay in Brown County.
How Brown County Became an Artist Colony
Artists began painting Brown County’s natural beauty as early as the 1870s. However, it wasn’t until 1907, when artist T.C. Steele built a home and studio there, that word spread about the area’s gorgeous landscape and artists flocked there. Some went just for the summer months; others moved there and opened studios. Besides the beautiful scenery waiting to be painted, Brown County wasn’t far from large cities, like Indianapolis and Chicago, where artists could sell their creations. Today, art remains a way of life in Nashville, the county seat, and the surrounding area, with about three dozen studios and galleries in downtown Nashville alone.
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Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour
Besides downtown Nashville, artist studios are sprinkled among the Brown County back roads. Pick up a Studio Tour map at the Brown County Visitors Center, and then navigate your way through the curves and hills of the colorful wooded roads to the artists’ studios.
In 2017, there were seventeen stops on the tour, representing twenty-five artists. In the time that we had available, we made it to only four studios, plus had lunch along the way.
Cox Creek Mill
Our first stop was Cox Creek Mill, where we met Brad Cox. Brad is originally from northwest Indiana. Business trips sometimes took him to Brown County, and he was impressed with the area. He and his wife Stephanie bought land, cleared it, and built the mill, where he sells his works of art created from old metal objects.
Next, we visited Rosey Bolte at the Uncommon Gourd, whose studio building is as adorable as the art she creates with gourds. Rosey’s two sisters sculpted with clay, so she wanted to do something different. Her dad brought her a gourd one day, and she painted it. She continued painting gourds, and after a while started sculpting on them also. Rosey doesn’t only paint and sculpt on the gourds, she grows them, too. Before leaving, we walked through her gourd patch, where a lot of them were still drying.
Natural fiber weaving and relief printing
Mother and daughter Sarah and Sarabeth Noggle work in studios on the same property. Sarah weaves natural fibers into art pieces and household utility items—although I’d never be able to bring myself to actually use one her hand-woven dishtowels or step on one of her rugs. I would hang them as decorative items instead.
Sarabeth’s art choice is printing, specifically relief printing. She designs a pattern, and then carves that pattern into a block, creating a “stamp.” She then uses an antique letterpress, dating back to the early 1900s to print the designs onto paper or card stock. If using multiple colors, she has to repeat the process for each color that she uses.
Haven Hollow Studios
Our last stop was to M.K. Watkins at Haven Hollow Studios. M.K. took us on a tour of her home studio, which was filled with paintings she has created. M.K. likes to “paint big,” often on eight-foot plywood boards. In fact, she was displaying a couple of panels from a five-panel, 20-foot by 8-foot mural she was commissioned to paint for a Christmas display at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. I was wowed by the mural, a whimsical depiction of Santa’s workshop, including sixty-five elves. She incorporated Indiana references into the mural, like a race car representing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, whose creator lived in Indiana.
Lunch at the Farmhouse Café and Tea Room
We stopped for lunch at the Farmhouse Café and Tea Room, nestled in the wooded back roads, a perfect complement to the art studios we were visiting. The café’s sandwiches and salads are works of art for the taste buds. Although it was fall, my Chicken Papaya/Mango Salad with Mango Vinaigrette Dressing was reminiscent of the summer months. Only the cool breeze on the patio reminded me that it was October.
After lunch we wandered through the adjacent nursery before getting back on the road to visit more studios.
More about the Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour
The 2018 Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour, as always, runs October 1 to October 31. You can download a brochure and find further information on the Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour website.
We stayed at the Creekside Retreat during our visit to Brown County. Check reviews and rates on TripAdvisor.
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