IU Art Musuem honors ‘Limestone Month’ with rare watercolors by Hoosier Group painter Otto Stark

The Indiana University Art Museum celebrates “Limestone Month” with the work of noted Indiana artists in two special installations in the first floor Gallery of the Art of the Western World through the end of August.

A rare series of four, large-scale watercolors depicting the quarrying of Indiana limestone by “Hoosier Group” painter Otto Stark are currently on public display for the first time. Hoosier Group refers to Indiana impressionist painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Stark, T.C. Steele, Richard Gruelle, William Forsyth and J. Ottis Adams.

The paintings are being presented in conjunction with Limestone Month, which features a series of events in Bloomington and Bedford throughout the month of June.

Stark’s watercolors were re-discovered in 1965 in the attic of the former Goth and Company Monuments building in Indianapolis. Although the exact nature of the commission is not known, family connections may have played a role, as Stark was a cousin of the business’ owner Charles A. Goth, the father of the famous Indiana portraitist Marie Goth.

The only member of the Hoosier Group to receive formal training in France, Stark’s style combines aspects of French realism and impressionism. Unlike some of the other Indiana Impressionists, who preferred painting landscapes, Stark was equally at home with genre scenes of people at work and at play. The composition and draftsmanship of the limestone murals — two tall, narrow vignettes of workers and two larger, horizontal landscapes — reflect the artist’s skill as a watercolorist, illustrator and muralist.

Although Stark was interested in capturing an aesthetic impression of this gritty work environment, he also sought an accurate depiction of the various aspects of the limestone quarrying process, from cutting to loading to transporting. While he apparently took some artistic license for compositional purposes, these images give a glimpse into this important local industry around the turn of the century, when there were more than sixty pit quarries in Indiana. In addition to the complete limestone series, one of Stark’s late impressionistic landscape paintings will also be on view.

“The desire of Hoosier patrons for depictions of local natural resources and home industries, as well as their support of regional artistic talent, led to the so-called Golden Age of Indiana art,” said Nan Brewer, the IU Art Museum’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper. “The close proximity of Indiana University to the Brown County Artists Colony has always encouraged a strong local interest in works by regional artists, and we are delighted to have this opportunity to showcase some of our more recent acquisitions in this growing area of our collection.”

A second installation highlights four works from the collection of John E. Hurt Sr. an attorney from Martinsville, Ind. Hurt collected the works of Indiana artists, including William Forsyth, John Ottis Adams, Frederick Polley and others. In 2008, the IU Art Museum received ten paintings as a bequest from his estate. Three of these works will be on view, in addition to a painting on loan to the museum from the Hurt family.

A Noon Talk, titled “Picturing Indiana Limestone,” is planned for Wednesday (June 3), 12:15-1 p.m., in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World, Doris Steinmetz Kellett Endowed Gallery of Twentieth-Century Art, first floor.

Brian Keith, senior scientist with the Indiana Geological Survey, will discuss the history of the state’s early limestone industry as depicted by the Hoosier Group artist Otto Stark in a series of four large-scale watercolor paintings.

Indiana University Art Museum

The Indiana University Art Museum’s galleries are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Angles Café & Gift Shop is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. The Art Museum’s galleries are closed on Mondays and major holidays. The museum and all exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public.

For more Limestone Month activities in Bloomington and Bedford, see www.limestonemonth.com.

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