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Brown County Art Gallery Expands: Double the Square Footage, Double the Fun

It doesn’t seem like having too much art would ever be a bad thing, especially if you’re an art gallery in Brown County. After all, the area is considered the “Art Colony of the Midwest.” With historic roots as one of America’s original art colonies and a continued commitment to preserving its artistic heritage, art is engrained in Brown County’s DNA. However, it’s when you’ve got so much great art that you don’t have enough space to show it all off that you’ve run into trouble!

Not a bad problem to have considering it’s due to an over-abundance of top-notch art, but nevertheless, we still can’t have any art going unseen…which is exactly why the Brown County Art Gallery is currently in the process of undergoing a major expansion that will more than double its size.

Established in 1926, it was the Brown County Art Gallery that put Nashville and Brown County on the road map as one of the most important regional art colonies in the U.S. Early artists, inspired by the French Impressionists who painted the countryside, flocked to Brown County during the early 1900s, eager to capture the area’s rolling hills and green landscape. While T.C. Steele was the first major artist to make his home in Brown County, it didn’t take long for others to catch on and make their move to the area.

In no time at all, these artists organized and established the Brown County Art Gallery Association, one of the oldest art galleries in the country, as well as one of the most continually active. Managing to survive wars, depressions, recessions, fire and relocation through the years, the Brown County Art Gallery still stands as one of Brown County’s prized possessions.

Housing artwork by both current Brown County Art Gallery Association members and early Brown county artists, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The Brown County Art Gallery also brings in several juried art collections, as well as hosts many events, throughout the year. With such a large repertoire of featured artists, paintings, exhibitions, and art-related activities, no wonder the Brown County Art Gallery is expanding!

If you’ve never been to the Art Gallery before, you really should go. In addition to getting an eyeful of art, you’ll also learn some Brown County history too. A treat for the senses, the Brown County Art Gallery is a great place to visit regardless if you’re an art buff or not. Plus, according to Lyn Letsinger-Miller, President of the Brown County Art Gallery Foundation, you’ll find works by “some of the best of Indiana’s professional artists both past and present,” at the Art Gallery!

With the sound of hammers and saws busy at work and the obvious construction happening at the Art Gallery, I was eager to head up the hill to 1 Artist Drive to see the expansion in progress for myself. Meeting Lyn for a personal tour of the new and improved Brown County Art Gallery (mid-expansion that is), I was excited to learn more about the Gallery’s major undertaking and get the inside scoop on how the project was going.

Before even stepping foot in the Art Gallery, it was clear that there was a major renovation happening. A massive addition to the right side of the current Art Gallery stood tall. Filled with carpenters, contractors, and electricians hard at work, the newly expanded part of the Art Gallery includes an entry vestibule, exhibition hall, art education studio, permanent gallery room, two special exhibit spaces, and storage.

Jumping right in, Lyn showed me the ropes, taking me on a grand tour of the Gallery. Glowing with excitement, Lyn explained how the expansion, all 8700 square feet, came to be. “The Gallery has been undergoing a renaissance in the last ten years and the quality of art here is great,” she said. “People are on a waiting list to exhibit their work and we really just want to make room so their wonderful artwork can be seen all the time.”

While the need for more space may have been the primary reason for the Brown County Art Gallery’s expansion, there’s so much more to it than that. Starting with the newly built area that will serve as the Gallery’s main entrance moving forward, we began to make our rounds to each of the added rooms. Trying to imagine the new entryway as Lyn described it, I could envision the area’s welcoming TV screen display, informational space with brochures, and even souvenirs. Sounds like a pretty nice way for visitors to start off their Brown County Art Gallery experience if you ask me!

Lyn explained how this vestibule, built in honor of her and her husband Leo Miller, will connect the old part of the Art Gallery with the newly expanded side. Go straight through the lobby and you’re in the historic section of the Gallery (where you’ll find permanent works by early Indiana artists). Take a right and you’ve entered the new Exhibition Hall, which will feature active Brown County Art Gallery Association artists, as well as serve as the new home of the Indiana Heritage Arts (a non-profit group that supports the local art community and sponsors a juried art competition each June – one of the largest in the Midwest!).

Providing a permanent and designated space where the work of current artists will be on display, the Exhibition Hall will include both the Columbus Room and the Rapp Family Gallery. And believe me…we’re talking some major square footage! No more tucking away paintings in storage. There will be plenty of room in the new Exhibition Hall!

Moving along, we headed into the adjoining Bob and Barbara Stevens Art Education Studio. I intently listened as Lyn explained the layout of the room and the Art Gallery’s big plans for using the space. A great place for art workshops and events, think of this new Art Education Studio as a hub for artistic inspiration and learning.

“The community has been wanting an art center for a while and we’re Brown County’s original art gallery, so why not put it here,” said Lyn. “We hope to help upcoming young artists through the activities we offer at the Art Education Studio and we want to try to bring in some major professional artists for workshops and seminars too.”

With its high-tech fiber optic video screen, epoxy cement floor, catering kitchen, and clean up area, the Art Education Studio has got it all. There are even filters to clean the air! Designed with the artist in mind, this new center is the perfect environment for fostering creativity, exploration, and art education.

“It’s going to be very hands-on in here,” explained Lyn. “Something like this is unique in the Midwest and we’re hoping to utilize the space to reach kids, seniors, professionals, really anyone who has an interest in art.”

Sounds like a cool place to me! I’m definitely going to have to go back once it’s all finished and see what kind of art workshop I can get myself into…and I’m guessing Lyn would tell everyone else to do the same!

Walking back through the Exhibition Hall, we made our way to the backside of the building where we found ourselves in a partially-finished gallery room. While it may still be a work in progress, once completed this room, the Dr. Robert E. Sexton Gallery, will serve as the new home for a permanent exhibit featuring the work of renowned woodblock artist, Gustave Baumann. The exhibit titled “Gustave Baumann: The Indiana Collection” will showcase beautiful prints done by Baumann depicting the state of Indiana. Prior to traveling to various places in the U.S., including Santa Fe where he really became famous, Baumann was a Brown County resident in the early 1900s. It was during this time that he left his works of art to the Brown County Art Gallery Association.

“Baumann is very well-respected and known in the art world,” explained Lyn. “We think this exhibit could be a national draw and attract people to visit from all over.” Seems like Baumann is a pretty big deal…all the more reason to go check out his art once it’s on display!

Connecting to the Baumann area was another room, which Lyn told me will actually be divided into two separate spaces. Both the Stevens Family Gallery and the Cheryl and John “Abe” Eyed Gallery will be used for rotating, non-permanent exhibits, creating a flex area for the Art Gallery to display an even wider variety of artists and collections. Lyn also pointed out that the space housing these two galleries cuts back through to the older part of the Art Gallery, allowing visitors to complete the loop for the full Brown County Art Gallery experience.

Additionally, the new expansion includes an update to the current South Gallery, which will be totally transformed into the Bill Zimmerman Studio. Sponsored by the Johnson Family, this Studio will pay tribute to the life and work of artist, naturalist, and world-class birder, Bill Zimmerman.

One of America’s premier bird artists, Zimmerman’s work has been shown in many museums and galleries including the Smithsonian and now it’s coming to Brown County! The Bill Zimmerman Studio will feature not only his art work, but also his old drafting table, paintbrushes, and more. A treat for bird and art lovers alike, this gallery will be a must see!
As if all that wasn’t enough, as part of their expansion, the Art Gallery is beefing up their security with several new cameras, as well as installing a retrofitted vault to protect and store paintings. They are even going to give the old part of the building a facelift with some new paint, minor renovations, and touch-ups!

Lyn is thrilled about all the new upgrades and additions, hoping that it brings not only an air of excitement to the Brown County Art Gallery, but more visitors too! “The Art Gallery is such an important place,” said Lyn. “I’m just glad it’s finally getting the attention that it deserves because we’re doing such big things here.”

The result of tons of hard work on behalf of everyone involved, Lyn explained that the expansion wouldn’t be possible without the help of the local community. “I’d say the whole expansion effort from planning and drawing up drafts to the actual construction has been done by 90% local workers,” she said. “There’s a lot of local pride going into this and we really couldn’t have pulled it all off without everyone’s help.”

Project managers for the Art Gallery’s expansion include Expansion Chair Bob Stevens, architect Steve Miller, and electrician Jim Schulz. Funded through monetary and in-kind donations, spaces added during the expansion are named after the donors who so generously contributed.

Looking forward to seeing the finished product? The new and improved Brown County Art Gallery will be on display for all to see during their Grand Opening Celebration on October 24 at 6 p.m. Enjoy the festivities as you tour the Gallery’s expansion and dine on food provided by Hotel Nashville. There also will be wine, music, and other surprises! The big celebration and fundraiser costs $25 per person and you can call the Art Gallery to reserve your spot.

Sounds like the place to be if you ask me! Be one of the first ones to check out the new Art Gallery and experience a special part of Brown County. Make sure you ask about all their upcoming events while you’re there too!

Brown County Art Gallery:
1 Artist Drive, Nashville, IN 47448
812.988.4609 / www.browncountyartgallery.org
Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
*Temporarily closed for construction until October 3, 2015

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