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Vawter, John William Barnes Cabin on Owl Creek, Brown County, No Date


John “Will” Vawter was born in Boone County, Virginia, and came with his family to Greenfield, in Hancock County, Indiana, at age 6. He started his career as a cartoonist and illustrator; later he painted landscapes as well. He completed many illustrations for his friend, the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley. Vawter’s sketches appeared often in the weekly issues of Life Magazine.

According to the Indianapolis Star, “From the time his hands were able to hold a pencil, he showed a marked talent for drawing; his mother encouraged his artistic tendencies, and neighbors of the Vawter’s in the old days have innumerable anecdotes to tell both of the rapidly developing artistic talents of young Will, such as the numerous times when, setting up his easel in the Vawter parlor, he absentmindedly wiped his paint brushes on the parlor curtains and the plush upholstery of the furniture. His first paints were the leftover colors he begged from the local house painters.”

Vawter moved to Nashville in 1904 and joined Steele and others in the Brown County Art Colony.

  • Barnes Cabin on Owl Creek, Brown County, n.d.
  • 24″ x 29″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, natural landscapes, cultural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, trees, hills, clouds, houses, Brown County Art Colony

The high horizon line pulls the viewer into the picture, with the clouds mirroring the tree line. Notice how the log cabin is nestled into the natural setting. There are still many log cabins of this type in Brown County, some even in remote areas. The painting has a grayed, monochromatic color scheme.

Some Points To Consider

  • Review with students how to make a monochromatic color scheme. Ask them why Vawter might have chosen this limited color scheme. (Art 4.3.2)
  • Ask students: Is this a good work of art? Why or why not? What criteria did you use to make your decision? (Art 4.4.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Ask students to invent a new product, such as a new apparatus to solve math problems. Have them create an advertisement to promote the product and describe the audience to which they want to market the product.
  • Ask students to list reasons why this scene looks cold. Then have them paint or draw this scene in another season by changing the colors of objects and the level of activity.
  • Have students draw a close-up view of this cabin and include people in the scene. Ask them what kinds of activities the people will be doing and why.