Georgia and Larry Davis
by Rachel Perry
courtesy photo of V.J. Cariani
Back in 1993, Brown County’s Art Renaissance Weekend included a walking tour of early artist’s studios in Nashville. Ten years later, at least one of those studios has disappeared. The home and studio of artist Curry Bohm (1894–1971) was razed to the ground to make way for a new building on Main Street in 2001.
Georgia and Larry Davis quietly began their campaign to restore two of the existing historic studios, and have gotten caught up in the stories and artifacts associated with them. They began renovating artist V. J. Cariani’s (1891–1969) home and studio five years ago.
“I like old homes,” Georgia admitted. “I was on a tour one time of the artists’ homes. And when we stopped by Amanda Kirby’s (former home and studio of artist Marie Goth who lived from 1887–1975), I noticed this little cabin down the hill. I said, ‘That’s a neat little house down there. Who lives there?’ And she said, ‘Cariani used to.’ I said, ‘I’d love to get my hands on that.’ Then she called us one day and said it was for sale.”
When they took possession of the house, ten cats and a dog had been living there. “You’d stick your head in the door and it just about knocked you over,” Georgia said. After replacing all interior walls, siding, roof, and adding a kitchen and enclosed rear porch, the little house became comfortable and inviting. Although they own a home in Bloomington, the Davises found themselves spending more and more time in the Cariani cabin. They became full-time residents when Larry’s mother moved to a Brown County nursing home in 2001.
Windows fill the entire north side of the living room (former studio) which features 11-foot ceilings and a fireplace. “It’s true that he didn’t have a kitchen,” Georgia said, referring to the Brown County lore that Cariani (Cari) did most of the cooking for Marie Goth, his nearest neighbor and life-long love-interest. The two artists met in their youth at the Art Students League in New York City and Marie was responsible for enticing Cari to Indiana.
Georgia and Larry were impressed with the beautiful carpentry work in Cari’s house and found several frame molds in the cellar. Cariani hand-made the frames for paintings he and Marie completed. The Davises converted a small sitting room with two tiny closets into their main bedroom. “He (Cari) came here to read when he wanted to be out of Marie’s hair,” Georgia laughed.
While restoring the yard, garden and lily pond, Larry has unearthed several items that likely belonged to the artists. The wheel from Cari’s wheelbarrow, an artist knife and a hair pin (possibly Marie’s) have all been carefully saved. “I talked to Cari in the garden,” Georgia chuckled, “and asked him if this is the way it was while we were putting plants in front of the house. Then I saw a picture of his garden and it was almost the same as we had made it. I feel like it’s still his house. We’re just taking care of it for him—the caretakers of his home.”
Meanwhile, across the narrow valley and up the next hill, the former studio/home of artist Adolph Shulz (1869–1963), during his marriage to Alberta, was slowly deteriorating. And Georgia couldn’t get it off her mind. “Whenever Georgia heard a bulldozer going up the driveway behind us, she’d think they were going to bulldoze the Shulz house,” Larry laughed. “She’d make me go see what they were doing.”
The Davises finally purchased the Shulz house last year and began painstaking renovation of that building, beginning with the roof and siding. Originally a small log cabin with a loft, Adolph Shulz had added a bathroom and cathedral-ceilinged room onto the outside chimney wall. The renovation includes enclosing the porches and replacing the floors and walls. The cabin walls will be re-chinked this winter.
In a cozy neighborhood behind the Brown County Public Library, the Shulz cabin is near the former studio/home of artist L.O. Griffith (1875–1956) and artist Will Vawter’s (1871–1941) home with this second wife. Rob and Judith Lawless own Adolph Shulz’s studio building.
Renovation just seems to be in the Davis’s blood. “We’ve finished furniture and we’ve always fixed up stuff,” Larry said. Owners of Davis Paint and Body, Inc. on West State Road 45 in Bloomington for the past 35 years, both Larry and Georgia work full time at the business.
Larry’s interest in auto body work began when he was in high school. “I had a ’39 Chevy and it was my first car. I wanted to customize the back, so I went to Oliver’s Body Shop. I wanted to shave the hood and take my running boards off. Oliver asked, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a paper route in the morning and a paper route in the evening, so I’ve got two paper routes.’ And he said, ‘How’d you like to start helping us?’ Thank goodness for Oliver (Linthicum) getting me started, “ Larry smiled.
Georgia and Larry Davis’ interest in fixing things up is a blessing for the artistic heritage of Brown County. Without concern and private resources from people like them, the early artists’ studios will surely disappear, one by one.