The Living Treasures of Brown County
Six Brown County Artists

by Karen Farley

Ten years ago, Dixie Ferrer, mixed media artist and co-founder of Art Alliance, had a vision. She wanted to capture on film Brown County artists with a direct link to the past. Last year, her dream became a reality.

In 2007, she attended a meeting at the home of basket weaver Mary Pendergrass. Ferrer watched a new relationship unfold between Brown County Art Alliance and Brown County Historical Society. The two women sat around a dining room table with five others. “We had all the players in the right spot,” says Pendergrass. Together, they made a decision that would allow the world to see and hear the unique stories of six accomplished artists and their love of Brown County.

Both Pendergrass and Ferrer were instrumental to the project. Pendergrass is a former board member of the Historical Society. She and her husband moved to Nashville five years ago and bought the old L.O. Griffith home. Ferrer and her husband Dick own and operate The Ferrer Gallery in Nashville. Ferrer’s passion and persistence to record the last link to the early impressionists sets her apart from other Nashville artists.

“The Living Treasures of Brown County” DVD project was a combined effort of the Historical Society and Art Alliance. It was made possible through several grants and the generous support of media professionals and volunteers.

In the video, six early Brown County artists tell their story in a thirty minute documentary. “They were the six oldest artists living at the time and form a connection between the artists today and the early impressionists,” says Ferrer.

At a cost of $3,000, the project is valued at $30,000. “I believe this is the first HD-DVD produced in Brown County,” Pendergrass says. Folklorist Jon Kay led a workshop that explained interviewing techniques so the artists could tell their own story.

Award-winning production manager for Community Access Television in Bloomington, Martin O’Neill, donated his services to the project. O’Neill had never visited Brown County. But after a few hours of instruction from Ferrer, he knew exactly what to look for. “He just took off and got the story,” she says. O’Neill used old photos to support the story line.

Pendergrass and Jeannette Richart from the Historical Society wrote the script, but each artist interpreted the question a different way. “By allowing that to happen, it was up close and personal about artists in the past,” Ferrer says.

Anabel Hopkins, Anne Ryan Miller, and Philip Pendergrass, along with many others, helped make this project a reality. Everyone involved had one goal- to produce a quality video that could air on public television. The result was an impressive look into the lives of six “treasured” artists in Brown County.

Doris Embry, 89, is a charter member of Indiana Heritage Arts. She came to the artist colony in 1969 and believes Brown County is one of the energy spots on the planet. Artist Sally Kriner turns 100 next year. A close friend of the late Marie Goth, Kriner’s portrait by Goth still hangs in her living room. Portrait artist Marie Thompson, 88, credits her success to personal involvement with her clients. Her portraits capture the spirit in each subject.

In the last year and a half, Brown County lost three prominent artists that were in the video. Landscape artist Fred Rigley (1914–2009) spent most of his life in Nashville. His candid personality attracted many and his legacy is still alive in Brown County. Amanda Kirby (1924–2009) lived in the former home and studio of friend Marie Goth. She was a prominent member of the Brown County Art Guild and known for her landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. Lillian Dunnigan (1921–2010) moved to Brown County in 1958. She enjoyed outdoor painting and studied with Fred Rigley.

Both Ferrer and Pendergrass are ready to take the project to the next level. They are already looking for the next group of artists to tell their story. “The Living Treasures of Brown County” will appear on Community Access Television. “We hope to use it as a fundraiser for PBS in the future,” says Pendergrass. They also plan to show the DVD in area schools. “If the kids don’t get this now, how will they ever know what it means to be an artist,” Ferrer adds.

In the early 1900s Brown County became a mecca for artists across the country. “We have a lot of information on the founding artists of Brown County,” Ferrer says. “Living Treasures” documents a new legacy and invites viewers into the studios of six artists that will be remembered for their love of Brown County and passion for fine art.

The unedited film and transcripts are in the archives at the Historical Society. For a fifteen-dollar donation, the DVD can be purchased at several locations including the Brown County Visitors Center, Brown County Historical Society, and the Hoosier Artist Gallery.