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Vawter, John William Scene of an Alley, 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 Vawters 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.

  • Scene of an Alley, n.d.
  • 30 1/2″ x 36 1/2″
  • Art Museum of Greater Lafayette
  • Keywords: paintings, urban landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, streets, houses, fences, trees

This painterly composition presents a winter day. Notice how the sky colors enhance the feeling of the season. The application of the paint embellishes the straight lines of the frame constructions. The car tracks indicate that there has been movement in the area, although the present scene is quite still.

Some Points to Consider

  • Help students analyze the painting and describe what they think painterly means. Have them list the treatment of the buildings, atmosphere, and snow and decide if the painting is Impressionist. (Art 4.2.2)
  • Ask students what they think it means to be self-taught. Have them think about Indiana in 1871 and speculate about why Will Vawter might not have received art training when there was training available. What role do they think James Whitcomb Riley might have had in Vawter’s success? (Art 4.1.1)