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Stark, Otto State Fair, 1895 – 1900


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.”

  • State Fair, 1895–1900
  • 3 1/2″ x 5 1/4″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, cultural landscapes, watercolor and gouache
  • Subjects: outdoors, events, people, men, women, children, hats, agricultural equipment, tools, Hoosier Group

In this work Stark is documenting an event in great detail. He has selected a different medium with which to paint, and his style is more like that of the illustrator for commercial work. Note that the dress of the people is formal and they are portrayed in various types of activities and with varying degrees of interest in the exhibit. Notice also the color and detail of the farm machinery. The color helps to create the feeling of activity and excitement that would be expected at the fair.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students if they think Stark did a good job of depicting the activity of a State Fair. Why or why not? Ask them to describe how he used the elements and principles of art to show distance. (Art 4.1.1, 4.7.1)
  • Have students describe how an illustrator of commercial works creates art differently from other art? Ask: How is commercial art used? How does this painting differ from Stark’s other work? (Art 4.2.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Let students paint pictures using small sponges. Show them how to apply large areas of paint using dark colors first. As the paint dries, they can gradually build up to the lightest colors and use a brush for some detailing.
  • Show students photographs or catalog drawings of old and new farm machinery. Invite a local equipment dealer or a farmer to come to class and talk to students about the equipment and how it has changed in color, size, design, purpose, and cost.