Artist Charlene Marsh
story and photo by Susan W. Showalter
Just as many of the celebrated early Brown County artists loved to paint en plein air, (in the open air), present day celebrated Brown County artist Charlene Marsh loves to backpack through wooded hillsides with her easel and oils to paint landscapes. This is a daily ritual for the small framed environmentalist who works in her studio on Lanam Ridge Road.
Accompanied by her dogs, we took a short walk on a warm sunny February afternoon to visit her horses and to see her cold frames where she grows organic food for her raw food vegan diet.
“I built all the cold frames out of recycled materials then built the terraces. I built up the soil and broadcast the seeds so now I have a variety of greens,” explained Charlene who has lived on five and a half acres bordering the Yellowwood State Forest since 1987. “They grow all winter and I pick whatever I need each day.”
Her large one room studio is filled with paintings. Charlene moved into the studio after her house burned in 2002.
She has received numerous awards and notoriety for her hand-tufted fiber rugs/wall art but her art began with painting. Unlike many painters, she seldom paints from photographs.
“All these paintings are from life. Ninety-nine per cent of my painting is done in the woods,” explained Charlene.
Charlene received a degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University in 1986 but her first degree in English was, according to Charlene, for her parents who taught school and practiced law.
“My parents were professionals and did not want me to be an artist. Art was something I did on my own. When I was young and my sister finished her paint by number kits, I would take the left over paints and paint my own pictures on my dad’s shirt cardboard material which came from the laundry,” laughed Charlene. “They worried about me making a living but once I was committed to being an artist, began getting into shows, winning awards and museums were buying my work, my parents became very supportive. This happened in around 1991. Things were starting to click!”
Featured in films and television documentaries, Charlene’s work has been commissioned and collected by many institutions, even by the White House in Washington, D.C. She has received numerous awards and grants and has taught painting. Charlene’s techniques and styles have changed over the years.
“With the oils, I started by doing figure painting,” said Charlene. “I worked on figures for ten years, then still-lifes for five years. I have been doing plein air landscapes for five years. This past year I’m doing the heavy impasto and light pallet knife work.”
Her work with fiber has evolved, also.
“I started with geometric cosmos stuff like looking through a telescope or microscope. Then, in 1991, I was influenced by the invasion of Baghdad and the exploding bomb burst pictures. I made a piece entitled Bombing Baghdad. It was a turning point. It was figurative, narrative, sociopolitical, environmental stuff and that turned out to be very popular with the museum curators,” explained Charlene. “I did that for about ten years until four years ago when I started doing the yoga, chakra, sacred geometry and mandala tapestries. That is what I do today.”
“Some people tell me ‘forget the painting and focus on the fiber…that is most unique and the best thing,’ but, for me, the painting and fiber balance each other,” Charlene said. “The fiber is so meditative but the painting is meditative, too, in a different way…it’s fast and messy and wet and kind of an instant gratification so whenever I tried to quit doing it, I couldn’t.”
Charlene looks forward to selling her paintings at upcoming shows including the prestigious Lakefront Festival of the Arts at the Milwaukee Art Museum in June. She has exhibited paintings at the Indiana State Museum Show and is having a solo show at the Brown County Art Gallery in April.
A member of the Brown County Art Gallery, Indiana Heritage Arts and Art Alliance of Brown County, Charlene also belongs to Hoosier Saloon, Indiana Artists’ Club and Fiber Artists Collective. She was featured on Brown County’s Studio and Garden Tour and volunteers on the board of the Arts and Cultural Commission of Brown County.
“I chair the community development committee which oversees the Arts Information Center in Nashville at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. We coordinate the artists’ registry, brochures, featured artists exhibitions, etc. to promote local artists, musicians and performing artists. I don’t want anyone to think this is just for visual artists,” emphasized Charlene. “We include anyone who is a Brown County artist or has an art event on a regular basis.”
Charlene’s work can be seen locally by visiting the Brown County Art Gallery, by visiting Charlene’s websites: <www.CharleneMarsh.com> and
<www.BrownCountyPaintings.com> or by contacting her at 812-988-4497.