Photo from the Jones family album stating:
Left to right: “Aletha Jones; Artist Ada Walter Shulz;
Fanny Bradley; Lucille Jones; brother Newland Jones on the ground, I think. On lot next to all Jones children’s birthplace, where the Chevrolet garage used to be.”

Brown County Children:
Models for Ada Shulz Paintings

~by Rachel Perry

Brown County artist Ada Walter Shulz (1870–1928) chose to focus on children early in her career and never strayed far from her favorite subject. “Children and Sunlight’ were always ringing in my ears,” she once wrote. “Would they not bring joy to the heart if painted right?”

While living in Delavan, Wisconsin early in her painting career, Ada chose her subjects from the neighborhood kids who happened by. In a 1915 article, The Delavan Enterprise described the procedure for the painting called ‘The Picture Book’: “For days Mrs. Shulz followed this little fellow as she would notice him playing about the yards and in the street. It was a long time before she mustered the courage to follow little La Verne to his parents’ very door and then urged the mother with her beautiful child to pose for her.”

Despite her fondness for children, Ada and her husband Adolf Shulz produced only one offspring. Their son, Walter, died tragically of diphtheria just after completing active duty in Germany at the end of World War I. Records indicate that Mrs. Shulz did not create much art for a few years after the loss of her son in 1918. She eventually regained her enthusiasm for painting, however, and children once again became her favorite subjects.

Ada’s affection for children appears to have been reciprocated. By all accounts, Brown County children liked Mrs. Shulz, and many of them posed willingly for her paintings. According to photojournalist and friend Frank Hohenberger, “When you spied a group of little girls on the street ahead of you, you could safely wager that Mrs. Shulz was in the midst plying her brushes on a canvas.” Brown County children, perhaps from overhearing Adolph’s nickname for his wife, called Ada “Sally.” Hohenberger wrote in his May 1928 column for the Indianapolis Star, “Mrs. Harriet Allison O’ Brien, as a young girl, spent several years in close association with ‘Sally,’ which is a name the children gave to this adored artist (Ada Shulz).”

Beginning in 1925, Ada expanded her subject matter to include barnyard pets interacting with children. The location for these difficult posings became the cabin and yard of Mary Ann Wright Barnes, known locally as “Grandma Barnes.” Ada got along famously with Grandma Barnes despite the older woman’s reputation for being “talented in her flower garden, kind to animals, peevish with artists and mean to her husband,” according to author Dillon Bustin. Grandma Barnes kept Ada regularly supplied with fresh eggs and butter, and also did her mending and washing.

“Grandma Barnes and Mrs. Shulz were the finest companions,” Hohenberger wrote in his column. “In fact, you could call them pals. Mrs. Shulz painted a number of canvases at the Barnes place which included children feeding ducks, chickens and turkeys, and Grandma Barnes was never too busy with other work to appear on the scene with a cup filled with grain to hold the attention of the poultry. She had an abundance of patience which no doubt contributed to the success of numerous paintings.” In 1928 Ada posed Grandma Barnes herself with a large turkey in a painting titled ‘Companions’.

Many of the children who modeled for Ada Shulz paintings have passed stories of the experience along to descendents. Mabel Henderson, at age nine, contributed a short essay to the Brown County Democrat in 1926. Titled ‘How I Make Money,’ she wrote, “I have a pet gosling. When he wants to say good morning he will quack and shake his head. I earn money by posing for Mrs. Ada Shulz, artist. I like to pose. She is painting me with my pet gosling drinking. He likes to pose sometimes, but he gets tired of drinking all the time. One day when posing the gosling put his head on my shoulder. He seemed to say, ‘I am tired.’ He used not to run with the old geese, but he does now. When I go outdoors he is always running after me.”

Two models, Mrs. Marianne Miller and Helen Kennedy Huber, recalled being taken in Ada’s car to Grandma Barnes’ cabin where they posed with barnyard fowl. Both said they were paid 50 cents for their efforts, around 1925. Helen Kennedy Huber remembers that her mother always warned her not to eat anything at Grandma Barnes’ because she didn’t think the place was very clean. But Helen was always offered bread and jelly and she always accepted. Sarah Spicer Hardin, Lucille Jones and Clara Calvin also served as child models.

Although most of Ada’s model/artist relationships had positive results, Hohenberger noted a few times when things were not ideal. In 1924, “Mrs. Shulz gave a talk at the city (Indianapolis) and a newspaper story about a model she referred to was heard about in Nashville. The result was that she lost the services of the model.” In October of 1925, “Mrs. Shulz said Charlotte (Mobley?) went on strike one time and wouldn’t pose any more as she thought the picture was done—at least it looked ‘done’ to her.” Another time Hohenberger wrote, “Mrs. Shulz was going to Dude Mobley’s February 14, 1924 and was telling her model troubles. She had a large canvas begun a long time ago. The model had outgrown the subject so she is using the next child—the advantage of having a large family.”

Ada Shulz was one of the few Brown County artists to see more than the beautiful scenery when she arrived in southern Indiana. She lived and worked among the native residents and got to know them better than perhaps any of the other newcomers. Ada Shulz chose to idealize her rural subjects and her paintings show country life from the perspective of an endless happy childhood. Her barefoot children in sunlight are unique among the works of the Brown County artists, who preferred to paint the hills and hollows they encountered as if no one lived there.