Brown County Artists
on the Road

by Joanne Nesbit

Many of Brown County’s early artists came to the hills from various urban and rural locales in and out of Indiana. Carl Graf was one of those who came in the 1920s and set up camp—literally. Graf made many camping trips into Brown County from his Indianapolis studio to paint, and be among, the Brown County landscape.

Lester Nagley, Sr. wrote of Graf’s Von’s Hollow “studio-camp” west of Nashville as being “two small tents in a clearing in the Hollow, one serving to store his paintings and the other in which he kept house and slept at night. He had used thin poles for fencing to design a yard around his camping quarters. He cooked over an open fire…”

In 1910 George Mock and two student friends decided they would leave Chicago and head to Brown County in “gypsy fashion.” They fixed up a covered wagon and started out camping and cooking by the wayside. Mock wrote of this adventure, “We bumped along up hill and down, stopping for a day or so here and there to paint, until we finally arrived at Nashville…

“We had no trouble in getting permission to camp on a hill south of town, thereby coming in contact for the first time with the characteristic hospitality of the people of Brown County. The man who owned the place was not only glad to let us camp on his land, but also would often bring us food which his wife had prepared for us.”

These days not many artists are erecting tents in the Brown County countryside, but many Brown County artists are pitching their tents in other areas across the country. These artists are not traveling to work in their craft, but to sell the product of their craft. One place where four Brown County artists recently came together was the Art Fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

By van, rented truck and car, these pottery and glass artists ventured forth from the hills of Brown County and made their way to the flat streets of Ann Arbor where they pitched their tents and waited for the crowds of hundreds of thousands to descend upon them. JACQUES BACHELIER, a leaded glass artist from Indian Hill Road, arrived with his massive hanging glass pieces, many of one large glass circle of stained glass encompassing another free-wheeling colorful leaded glass circle. Bachelier continues to exhibit his wares in shows and fairs from the Midwest to Missouri and Florida. He figures his expenses in Ann Arbor run between $1,500 and $1,600 for the four-day run of the fair. “I could do one small show for $100 in costs and make about $10,000,” he says. But he likes returning to Ann Arbor to visit with friends.

Another exhibitor in the Michigan city is native Hoosier and Brown County resident CHERI PLATTER who brings along her husband Dallas. In this twosome Cheri is the ceramics artist and Dallas is in charge of putting up and taking down the 6 by 10 foot white tent. The pair has been doing this for nearly 20 years, exhibiting Faerie Hollow Pottery at shows mostly in the Midwest. Now the Ann Arbor show is the only one where the couple displays the wares created in Cheri’s studio on Salt Creek Road. Cheri says the gypsy life that requires packing, unpacking, transporting, displaying, re-packing and traveling back to Brown County is beginning to lose its romance after so many years. Now more and more people are coming to her studio where they can watch the artist work. “I’m not sure whether the visitors find Brown County and then find me or find me and then find Brown County,” Cheri says.

By the time the artisan rents a hotel or motel room, rents a truck, eats in restaurants for three to four days, and invests in Rubbermaid tubs and bubble-wrap, the costs of traveling from show to show across the country, or even the Midwest, can add up quickly. “It’s a grueling way to make a living,” says ceramicist LARRY SPEARS who, when not on the road, resides on State Road 135 South. “It’s good to have your work exposed to people in different parts of the country,” Spears says, “but it’s a tough way to make a living.” Spears’ wife Jan serves as the artistic director for Spears Gallery making sure applications are in on time and that the couple has food available while tending their tent display. “I’m in charge of the Hostess cupcakes, Little Debbies and apples,” Jan says. These native Hoosiers spent 14 years in Gatlinburg then moved back to Indiana and located in Brown County about 7 years ago. They now schedule only shows within a one-day drive of home because, Jan says, “We like being in Brown County.”

ANNE RYAN MILLER of Nashville is no stranger to Ann Arbor and the city is no stranger to her. She has been participating in the Art Fairs since 1983, but even before that became familiar with the city while attending the University of Michigan. Miller creates nature scenes in glass, which is an offshoot of her work at the university where she earned a degree from the School of Natural Resources and Environment. She has expanded this interest to her work in “flat glass” where she can continue to express her love for the natural world. This year Miller’s niece came from California to help in the studio and that packing and putting up and re-packing and taking down routine of exhibiting at art shows and fairs.

Artists are no longer coming to Brown County via train, horseback, covered wagon or by foot, but they do continue to come to capture in various mediums the splendor of the hills. But the artists and craftsmen who call Brown County home will continue to take their products to a larger audience across the country.

To learn more about these artists and their work, visit the Spears Gallery at <>, Faerie Hollow Pottery at <>, and Anne Ryan Miller at <>.

Jacques Bachelier doesn’t have a Web page. He says he enjoys his rather isolated life in Brown County and at time wishes he didn’t even have a phone.