Artist June Bryan

by Barney Quick

June Bryan is the embodiment of certain characteristics—talent, commitment to growth, and love of place—that have come to define the Brown County artist. She has an eye for the quiet drama of a hilltop view or a creek-bed scene, as well as for the rugged dignity of the people and animals who populate the area.

Although she was born in Indianapolis, and spent her early adolescence in Hollywood, California, she has called Brown County home since her high school days. She and her husband raised five children in a succession of houses and now live in the heart of Nashville. Her studio is above her garage.

The seeds of what would become her painting career were planted years before she picked up a brush. In the early 1960s, she was the Brown County correspondent for what was then called The Evening Republican, the Columbus daily newspaper. In that capacity, she conducted the last interview ever given by Frank M. Hohenberger, the renowned photographer who dealt with the same subject matter upon which Bryan would later focus: nature and people with their roots in the land.

In 1974, her oldest son died in an automobile accident, a devastating experience for the family. A friend invited her to one of painter Dwight Steininger’s Friday-night demonstrations, which, she says, “probably saved my sanity.”

Steininger, a minister as well as an accomplished artist, loved to pass on his knowledge. “He was incredibly generous,” Bryan recalls. “If a student was having difficulty with a particular technique, he’d say, ‘Here, take this painting of mine home with you and see if that helps you.’ So many of us who are painting landscapes now became dedicated to our art because of him.”

Generous people seem to have continually blessed Bryan’s artistic path. The first place she exhibited her work was a diner in Columbus called Sap’s Buffeteria. “The manager didn’t even want a commission,” she says. “He’d call once in a while and say, ‘Hey, I sold a couple of paintings for you.’”

Next, she hung her work at the now-defunct Nashville Art Gallery. For the past eleven years, she has been showing at the Brown County Art Gallery.

Her depictions of fall scenes constitute one kind of approach to color and her winter landscapes another. The fall paintings explore the notion of brilliance—in leaves, sky and water—without reservation. The winter works convey a uniform softness, as if nature’s slumber were swaddled in varying degrees of white.

In her fall pictures, there is generally one area of the canvas clearly intended to draw the viewer’s eye first. In some cases, this is achieved with a confluence of bold colors, juxtaposed against a pastel blue hillside to denote distance. Sometimes, in the focal area of such works, she goes for a point of contrast, such as the shadow side of a barn against a field of bright yellow in the painting “Schooner Valley.”

The cozy feel of her winter scenes is further accentuated by the inclusion of village-type buildings—small churches, shops, cottages. “The Alley” is typical of her work in this vein, stacking such elements along a narrow thoroughfare ascending a hillside.

Oil has always been her medium of choice and landscapes her preferred subject matter. Lately, though, she has done a series of works featuring horses. The horses are generally pulling some sort of farm implement or vehicle, and they look accustomed to the working life. “Belle and Bob,” currently on display at the Brown County Art gallery, is a good example of this line of exploration. “I guess I don’t want to paint healthy horses,” says Bryan. “I like the tired old farm horses that look a little neglected, the ones with the quality you see in the people in Hohenberger’s photographs.”

Bryan used to be active in the Indiana Plein Air Painters’ Association, but now she prefers to stay close to home. Like her first influence, Hohenberger, she sees infinite variety in Brown County. “There’s a painting around every corner here,” she says.

She also has that other quintessential Brown County trait—a musical bent. She plays mandolin and dulcimer and has children and grandchildren who likewise play stringed instruments.

She can be contacted at (812) 988-4262.