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T.C. Steele mystery painting unveiled
Updated on: 05.23.12

 

With a tug of a grey, silky covering, Andrea deTarnowsky revealed a mystery painting from artist T.C. Steele that had not been viewed in at least 86 years.

According to many of the people in attendance, the grand unveiling that took place inside a studio at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site on Wednesday marked a significant discovery in the art world. About a month ago as Conservator Barry Bauman of Chicago readied a Steele painting for restoration, he found the untitled piece hiding beneath.

“For two completed paintings to be stretched over the same stretcher is very rare,” Meredith McGovern, the arts and culture manager for the Indiana State Museum, told a group of media and art enthusiasts who had gathered for the big announcement.

deTarnowsky is the site manager for the historical site located in Brown County nine miles west of Nashville. When she removed the cover, the crowd expressed wonder.

“Awe!” said one woman.

“Wow!” said another.

The painting depicts a woman dressed in black dress and red bonnet standing among a group of trees near a building with a tower jutting into the skyline.

Before returning the artwork, Bauman fixed its yellowing and mended its cracks. He could not attend the press conference, but he did provide a statement about the discovery being a highlight of his career.

“The discovery was a personal reward for me and an even greater reward for the museum,” Bauman said. “Discoveries of this nature ‘don’t happen,’ but when they do they carry an everlasting satisfaction that a little piece of the history of art is forever realized.”

This is not the first noteworthy discovery by Bauman. Last year, he determined that a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln that hung in the Illinois governor’s mansion was in fact not the wife of the 16th president of the United States. The story received widespread news coverage.

Steele died in 1926. That year, his wife Selma authenticated her husband’s paintings, including the 1887 piece titled, “An Old Garden,” that covered the untitled piece, which was dated 1890. As a result, the back of the untitled piece contains Selma’s authentication for the Garden piece.

“Because of course she is seeing this one on top not realizing one was below,” McGovern said.

Finding the painting has created additional mystery. Why did the painting get covered up? What is the title of the painting? Who is the female figure? What tower does the painting depict?

McGovern suggested that maybe Steele quickly needed a stretcher for a painting for a potential buyer and that’s why he covered an existing painting. Other theories are Steele was displeased by the painting or he forgot about covering it up. Maybe he wanted to create a stir years later.

“It’s all speculation at this point,” she said.

deTarnowsky said Steele’s paintings typically depict actual scenes and sometimes showed his children.

McGovern said she has contacted historians in Delaware and Franklin counties, where Steele is known to have spent time in the 1880s and 1890s. Her sources could not confirm the identity of the distinct tower.

Searches through Steele’s letters to family and other records also turned up no clues.

“Until we have that documentation, we can’t say for sure,” said McGovern, who vowed efforts to stitch the story together would continue.

To view the untitled painting, people can visit the T.C. Steele State Historic Site. It will be on display there until at least November.

Recently discovered painting by artist T.C. Steele.

  • April 28
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • April 28
    BC Convention & Visitors Bureau
    8:30 a.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • April 28
    BC Area Plan Commission
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 28
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 29
    BC Board of Zoning Appeals
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 29
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 29
    Lake Lemon Conservancy District Board
    6 p.m. Benton Township Senior Center, 7606 State Road 45, Unionville
  • April 29
    BC Sheriff's Merit Board
    4 p.m. Sheriff's Office, Law Enforcement Center, 55 State Road 46 East
  • April 30
    Go Club at the library
    4 to 6 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 30
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 30
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • May 1
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 1
    Antique tractor, engine and machinery show at the fairgrounds
    7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Brown County 4-H fairgrounds
  • May 1
    'Back to the Future' at the Playhouse
    7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 2
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 2
    Morel Mushroom sale & festival at state park Nature Center
    10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • May 2
    Antique tractor, engine and machinery show at the fairgrounds
    7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brown County 4-H fairgrounds
  • May 2
    Spring Blossom Festival dance planned
    6 to 10 p.m. The Seasons Lodge, 560 State Road 46 East
  • May 2
    Spring Blossom Parade and food drive downtown
    11 a.m. downtown Nashville
  • May 3
    Read to a dog at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 3
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    Noon to 2 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 3
    'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 3
    Antique tractor, engine and machinery show at the fairgrounds
    7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Brown County 4-H fairgrounds
  • May 5
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 5
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • May 6
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • May 7
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 7
    Quartet featured with gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • May 7
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 8
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 9
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • May 9
    Open house conducted at New Song
    9 to 11 a.m. New Song Mission, 7202 Keith Donaldson Road, Freetown
  • May 11
    BC Election Board
    2 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 13
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • May 14
    Local Coordinating Council
    8 a.m. Comm. Corrections Office, Suite B, lower level of Veterans Hall, 902 Deer Run Lane,
  • May 16
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • May 16
    Rock & mineral club
    6 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • May 16
    Historic site hosts outdoor art contest
    7 a.m. to 4 p.m. TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • June 20
    Pollinator Awareness Day at state park Nature Center
    9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)