Saturday, March 30, 2013

The First Art School in Indiana

No one can say for sure who was the first Indiana artist, illustrator, or cartoonist. However, in a book called American Pioneer Arts and Artists (1942), the author, Carl W. Drepperd, is unequivocal about the date, place, and founder of the Hoosier State's first school of art:
At New Harmony, Indiana, William McClure opened the first school for drawing, painting, engraving and lithography in the state, 1826. Charles Alexander [sic] Lesueur was the art teacher at the New Harmony School, 1826 to 1837.
William McClure (1763-1840) was a Scottish-born geologist, cartographer, merchant, and educator. He is known as "the father of American geology." If a map is an illustration, then McClure might be considered one of the earliest of Indiana illustrators. He made a geological map of the United States published in 1809 and 1817. In the mid 1820s, he settled in Robert Owen's Utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana, and established a school for adults. Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1778-1846), the art teacher at New Harmony, was a French artist and naturalist and a friend of William McClure. He also served as a kind of unofficial artist of the New Harmony experiment. Also in residence at New Harmony was David Dale Owen (1807-1860), son of Robert Owen and a geologist and artist.

The community at New Harmony received visitors in the winter of 1832-1833 in the persons of  Prinz Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867), a German aristocrat, explorer, naturalist, and ethnologist, and the artist Johann Carl Bodmer, better known Karl Bodmer (1809-1893). Bodmer was a painter, graphic artist, and illustrator. His work as such would place him in a category as one of Indiana's first illustrators, along with McClure, Lesueur, and Robert Dale Owen.

In his book, Drepperd mentions another early art school within a "female seminary" (the Monroe County Female Academy), located in Bloomington and maintained by Cornelius Pering from 1832 to 1849. Pering, an English-born educator, was born in 1806 and died in 1881.

Mollusks and zoophytes, drawn by Charles Alexandre Lesueur, one of the first Indiana illustrators. This drawing is from 1807, prior to Lesueur's arrival in the Hoosier State.
A drawing of the eastern quoll or eastern native cat (Dasyurus viverrinus), an Australian marsupial, also by Lesueur (date unknown).
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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