Early Women Artists
of Brown County

by Joanne Nesbit

It was in September of 1926 when the Brown County group of artists met at Vawter’s home and organized the Brown County Art Gallery Association.

The association was incorporated the next spring and the first gallery established in a store building on Main Street, a block west of the courthouse.

By 1954 the association had built a gallery on the corner of Main Street and Artist Drive. A few years later a wing was added to house the collection of works by Glen Cooper Henshaw. In 1966 an arsonist set a fire that destroyed the building.

Using the same site, the association rebuilt a larger, fire-resistant building in 1968 and welcomed artist members, a good number of whom were female. Among those members were Evelynne Mess Daily, a painter and etcher from Indianapolis, who maintained a summer studio and home named Oxbow Acres on Clay Lick Road.

Others joined, too, including Beatrice Zerwekh, a Lafayette native, who gave up teaching in Peoria, Illinois, to devote her time to oil painting. She developed an allergy to oil paints and switched to acrylic paints just as they were coming into vogue.

Betty Wade, a Lafayette native, found her way to Southern Indiana and membership in the Brown County Art Gallery. “I love the excitement and thrill of applying the paint on a wet surface,” she is reported as saying. “There is a lot of planning that goes into the final steps of my painting. My love of flowers, rocks, trees and anything of nature gives me shapes to begin my work. Indiana has a lot of wonderful natural beauty. I never lack subject matter or inspiration.”

Some have described artist Melba Dailey as “inventive and versatile.” Dailey’s work includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, and bas-reliefs in metal and in fused cathedral glass. In the 1950s Dailey originated “Wall Jewels,” small bas-reliefs in precious and semi-precious metals embellished with precious and semi-precious gemstones. “I like trying to give life, through form and color to many ideas and spiritual concepts,” Dailey once said.

Hildegarde B. Donaldson became a life member of The Brown County Art Gallery. Painting since the age of 12, Donaldson, who with her husband Daniel C., “found the Brown County landscape to be our favorite painting subject.”

Letha Gaskins traveled extensively painting in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Hawaii, Europe and in every state of the US except Alaska. She was a versatile artist in the traditional style of painting, working in oil, transparent watercolor, opaque and acrylic media. She chose a wide variety of subject matter. She volunteered to teach in the art studio of the Methodist Home in Franklin and donated 15 of her paintings as gifts to the Home.

Watercolorist Louise B. Hansen painted “on site” or in her workshop after making exploratory sketches and notations. Hansen found subjects during leisurely walks in woods and fields and while gardening or even pulling weeds from her yard.

“Parts of the paintings are like the original motif, but modified and arranged to create a new visual synthesis,” Hansen said. “In different degrees they develop from the seen to the felt and known, from the motif to the self and from the deliberate to the spontaneous.”

Perhaps it was Brown County Art Gallery Association member Helen Manning who best described why artists, male or female, were and still are attracted to Brown County—It’s that “particular something other areas lack.”