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Stark, Otto Leland Morning, 1921


Otto Stark was born in Indianapolis. Like many households, his family had a cow for milk. Taking it to pasture one morning, Stark sprained an ankle and was unable to continue at his job as a woodcarver standing at a bench. Thus at 16 he apprenticed to a Cincinnati lithographer and went to night classes at the Art Academy. In 1879 he went to the Art Students League in New York City and supported himself through illustrations, designs, and lithography. When many of his friends were going to Munich to study, he attended the Académie Julian in Paris. He studied under Gustave Boulanger, who was noted for his Oriental subject matter. Stark is one of the Hoosier Group.

Stark returned to the United States in 1888 and worked in New York City and Philadelphia until his wife died in 1891; then he brought his four children back to Indianapolis. Children were among his favorite subjects. He portrayed them in candid situations doing simple, everyday tasks. In 1899 he began teaching art at Emmerich Manual Training School. He also taught at the Herron Art Institute. Many of his pupils went on to become artists or art teachers. Once, when the Indianapolis school board asked pupils to write essays on “Why We Take Pride in Indianapolis,” Otto Stark followed right behind James Whitcomb Riley in popularity.

Stark wrote about his craft, and it is interesting to note his definition of his style: “Impressionism to me has always meant the retaining of the first impression which nature makes upon us as we approach her, be it of tone, quality, harmony, light, vibration, force, delicacy, color, etc., and rendering this impression, if necessary, to the exclusion or at the sacrifice of details or other qualities and characteristics not so essential or vital, and rendering it unhampered by tradition and conventionalities.”

  • Leland Morning, 1921
  • 28″ x 36″
  • David Owsley Museum of Art, Ball State University
  • Keywords: paintings, natural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, summer, trees, lakes, dunes, Hoosier Group

Stark accompanied his friend J. Ottis Adams and Adams’s family to Leland, Michigan, starting in the summer of 1916. The area is described in the book The Hoosier Group as “northern Michigan’s Indiana Woods, a mile-square thicket of pines, hemlocks, and balsams along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.” Stark reportedly pitched two tents on the beach—one to live in, and one as a studio. This painting emphasizes the heavy atmosphere typical of early morning on a body of water and the dense foliage of summertime. The horizontal composition leads the eye to the light on the water. Also, the artist has used atmospheric perspective to draw the viewer into the painting. A sense of distance is the result of the indistinct edges and cool colors.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students where they think the artist was standing when he painted this work. (Art 4.3.1)
  • Ask students to identify the trees and plants in the painting. What does that tell them about the style of this painting? (Art 4.3.2)