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Indiana farm painting exhibit to travel state
Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — FFA members visiting the national convention last week were treated to the opening of Painting Indiana – The Changing Face of Agriculture at the Indiana State Museum in White River State Park.

The exhibit ran for one week only, but will travel throughout Indiana for the next several months.

The project is a collaboration of the Indiana Plein Air Painters Assoc. (IPAPA), the Center for Agricultural Science and Heritage, Inc. (The Barn), and WFYI (PBS channel 20 in Indianapolis). It follows the Painting Indiana: A Portrait of 92 Counties project, featuring a painting of a single focal point from each county.

The French Impressionists popularized Plein air painting, or open-air painting.

Ten members of IPAPA were chosen for the agriculture project and were challenged to tell the story of Indiana agriculture in their paintings.

To stimulate the interest of youth and adults, the artists interpreted contemporary Indiana agriculture production, processing, distribution and consumption. From a lobbyist at the statehouse and farmers in the field, to a grape harvest, a child eating tomato soup and a futuristic look at farm machinery, Hoosier agriculture is captured in each brushstroke.

Painters involved with the project are Bill Borden of Hanover; Mark Burkett of Mooresville; Mary Ann Davis and Ron Mack, both of Indianapolis; Lynn Dunbar of Louisville (an Indiana native); Bob Farlow of Winchester; Jeff Klinker of Lafayette; Nancy Maxwell of Martinsville; Carol Strock-Wasson of Union City and Scott Sullivan of Bloomington.

All 110 paintings are captured in the book Painting Indiana – The Changing Face of Agriculture, published by IU Press and available for $39.95 at the state museum, Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores and at

Agriculture journalist and broadcaster Gary Truitt and his wife, Kathleen Stubbe Truitt, wrote the narration.

The exhibit features 40 of the paintings on the outside of a circular wall.

On the inside of the wall, 10 paintings are arranged to form a 360-degree panorama created when the artists gathered at the Lamar Farm in Zionsville. Sitting back to back, each artist painted the view in front of them of an Indiana farm on a typical cloudy day.

Though hues and techniques vary from painting to painting, the 10 interpretations merge to tell a fascinating story.

Ron Mack admitted he “didn’t know beans” about farming when the project started and said he spent more time finding his subject matter than he spent actually painting. He stayed with farmers and rode along in their trucks as they did their work. “Herding cows used to be a man on a horse,” he said. “Today they use a four-wheeler.”

He also learned how land is compromised now to make room for developments and retail ventures. His oil painting, Advancing Suburbia, shows an old barn with new houses creeping up on the horizon. He painted the scene just as a storm was brewing, pulling out the impact of the painting.

Mark Burkett found some of his subjects close to home. He traveled to the far edge of Morgan County to the tiny town of Banta, where the Banta store is one of the last remnants of commerce.

“It used to be a real town,” Burkett said. “It’s representative of a small town store. They sold everything a farming community needed – twine, seeds, plants.”

He painted the store at sunset – symbolic, he said, because the store won’t last indefinitely.

He also painted a goat farm in nearby Hazelwood, the only place in Indiana where visitors can buy and slaughter their own goat. That gives the painting an international perspective, as the practice is common for immigrants from the Middle East, Mexico and Central America.

Another of Burkett’s favorite locations is Willowfield Lavender Farm near Mooresville, where three acres of lavender provide fodder for canvases. The owners, Kieran and Libby O’Connor, hosted plein air painters in June for a day of painting.

Justin Armstrong, director of The Barn, hopes the exhibit will be accessible to schools. For most children, he said, their knowledge of agriculture ends when they make “hand turkeys” in second grade.

“They think of farmers as grumpy old men with big hands who mow the yard with a tractor and their wives are nice and make good pies,” Armstrong said.

He wants students to understand the efficiency of agriculture that allows Americans to spend 7.1 percent of their income on food compared to the 48.4 percent spent in India.

Armstrong said the project “did what we intended it to do: Tell the story of agriculture as it is today.”

He is now scheduling the traveling exhibit at museums, schools, libraries and other public venues across the state. The Tipton Foundation will host the first exhibit beginning Nov. 11.

The exhibit will include any paintings of farms, businesses or other connections to that area, and will include all paintings done by a painter if the exhibit is near his hometown. The paintings will be sold at auction at the conclusion of the tour.