First Brush of Spring 2023 artists
First Brush of Spring 2023 artists

By Bill Wissel

Is it possible to have a perfect paint-out? Probably not, but the 24th First Brush of Spring in New Harmony, Indiana (April 12-15) came very close. Over 110 artists gathered for the event, sponsored by the Indiana Plein Air Painters (IPAPA) and the Hoosier Art Salon.

We had four days of perfect weather – sunny, warm, but not too hot; great artists painted beautiful scenes; judge Jill Stefani Wagner made wonderful choices. “I was honored to judge three of IPAPA’s “First Brush of Spring” events that week,” Jill said. “How wonderful it was to spend five glorious spring days in the lovely town of New Harmony, Indiana! I’d never been there before and visiting all the area’s historic sites was like stepping back in time. The streets, fields, and wetlands were filled with over a hundred Midwest artists, many interested art lovers, and collectors.”

Artists travel to the event from across the country attracted by New Harmony’s charm, cottages planted with flowers, walkable streets, picket fences, and quaint downtown. Springs puts on a show with dogwood, redbud, crabapples, peonies, tulips, and lilacs bursting into bloom throughout the town and countryside. There is no shortage of places or things to paint. New Harmony is a spiritual place where many people can contemplate life and its many mysteries – and art certainly helps! There is the Roofless Church and multiple labyrinths and gardens that contribute to this almost mystical atmosphere.

Each year the town extends a warm welcome to the annual influx of artists by volunteering to help. Residents and visitors often walk and ride in golf carts to meet and watch artists create. Artists often describe their idyllic small-town experience with the townspeople as heartwarming, – like being in Mayberry!

There is a “Field to Finish” Exhibition and Sale where artists bring a field study completed the prior year together to exhibit with a studio work inspired by the same subject. This exhibition opening, sponsored by the Hoosier Art Salon, kicks off the paint-out. “It was really fascinating to see the way the earlier pieces informed and expanded into the later creations,” Jill said.

Mark Vander Vinne won the Field to Finish Best of Show award. Also garnering awards were Jason Bailey, Mary Ann Davis, Thomas Himsel, David M. Seward, and Carol Strock-Wasson.

Mark Vander Vinne
Mark Vander Vinne won the Field to Finish Best of Show award

“Thursday was Quick Draw day,” Jill said, “and I do mean quick! Artists had only 75 minutes to paint, frame and deliver paintings to the venue. And yet, the caliber of the paintings was amazing.” All of the winners got a “Larry,” a badge displaying a self-portrait.

first brush of spring Larry quick draw award
The “Larry” badge; Larry Rudolech was a beloved IPAPA member who helped any artist who asked for it. He left us far too soon in 2020.

Top prizes for the Quick Draw went to Jason Bailey, Lon Brauer, David M. Seward, and Donna Shortt. Also receiving recognition were Bev Bruntz, Beth Forst, Susan Mauck, and Mark Vander Vinne.

Winners of this year’s Quick Draw
Winners of this year’s Quick Draw

The paint-out culminates with a competition on Saturday. Over 40 awards are given out for nocturnes, non-professionals, and students as well as honorable mentions and merit awards. The top prize winners this year were:

Awards of Merit – Lon Brauer, Julie Wiegand, and Roy Boswell
3rd Place – Alan Larkin
2nd Place – Jason Bailey
1st Place – Shaun Frankfurt
Best of Show – David M. Seward

David M. Seward
Jill Stefani Wagner with Best of Show winner David M. Seward. “One of the many great things about the First Brush of Spring is the timing, as it comes when southern Indiana breaks away from winter and (usually) warmer weather has arrived,” David said. “Everyone is coming off winter hibernation and we get to experience the beauty of spring.”

“New Harmony is a wonderful area, and the community is very kind and welcoming,” David said. “My painting scene, ‘Looking North’, was discovered as I was interested in something else that brought me to the area. I was captivated by the purple and had to give it a go!”

The “almost perfect” paint-out ended early on the town’s large lawn because of a storm threatening to begin, with dark clouds rolling into the area.

“The rows and rows of paintings on easels were a daunting site for this judge,” Jill said, “and while the sponsors provided a lot of awards, there were many, many worthy paintings. And as almost every competition judge has said… I would love to have given out more!”

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