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John William "Will" Vawter

 

Location: Greenfield (Hancock County, Indiana) 46140

Installed 2020 Indiana Historical Bureau, David A. Spencer, and NineStar Connect

ID#: 30.2020.1

 Visit the Indiana History Blog to learn about Will Vawter's long career as an artist and especially his best work which he did later in life.

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John William "Will" Vawter

Side One

Will Vawter captured the character of rural Hoosiers and the beauty of the Indiana landscape in his art.  Born in 1871,  he lived in Greenfield by 1880,  and worked as an illustrator for local newspapers by 1891.  Vawter illustrated works by many Indiana writers including Greenfield-based authors like his sister Clara Vawter  and “Hoosier Poet” James Whitcomb Riley. 

Side Two


Vawter moved to Brown County in 1909,  joining the vibrant art community,  and created bold oil paintings of the regional landscape.  He exhibited regularly at H. Lieber Co. in Indianapolis  and at the Hoosier Salon in Chicago.  In 1926, he helped organize the Brown County Art Gallery Association, dedicated to local art.  Vawter died in 1941 and is buried in Greenfield. 

Annotated Text

Will Vawter captured the character of rural Hoosiers and the beauty of the Indiana landscape in his art.[1] Born in 1871,[2] he lived in Greenfield by 1880,[3] and worked as an illustrator for local newspapers by 1891.[4] Vawter illustrated works by many Indiana writers including Greenfield-based authors like his sister Clara Vawter[5] and “Hoosier Poet” James Whitcomb Riley.[6]

Vawter moved to Brown County in 1909,[7] joining the vibrant art community,[8] and created bold oil paintings of the regional landscape.[9] He exhibited regularly at H. Lieber Co. in Indianapolis[10] and at the Hoosier Salon in Chicago.[11] In 1926, he helped organize the Brown County Art Gallery Association, dedicated to local art.[12] Vawter died in 1941 and is buried in Greenfield.[13]

 

[1] “A Co-Worker with Riley,” Indianapolis News, reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 8, 1898, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “Riley’s New Book,” (Plymouth) Marshall County Independent, December 23, 1898, 5, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; William Forsyth, “Art in Indiana,” Indianapolis News, September 27, 1916, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Paintings of Local Artists Exhibited,” Indianapolis News reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 27, 1917, 4, accessed Newspapers.com. “Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, September 17, 1919, 26, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; William Herschell, “Will Vawter’s Home in Brown County,” (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, August 5, 1920, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Art Notes,” Indianapolis News, December 4, 1920, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; John William Vawter, Barnes Cabin on Owl Creek, Brown County, circa 1920, Oil on Canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, accessed http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/54304/; Will Vawter, Sunshine and Hollyhocks, 1925, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection, published in Lyn Letsinger-Miller, Artists of Brown County (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), 41.

[2] 1880 United States Census (Schedule 1), Enumeration District 194, Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, Page 15, Line 27, June 5, 1800, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Indiana State Board of Health, John William Vawter Certificate of Death, February 11, 1941, Marion, Indiana, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Death Certificates, 1941, Roll 3, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

[3] “The Eclectics,” Indianapolis News, May 14, 1879, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Seriously Hurt,” (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, July 24, 1879, 3, Newspapers.com; 1880 United States Census (Schedule 1), Enumeration District 194, Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, Page 15, Line 27, June 5, 1880, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Eclectic Physicians in Council,” Indianapolis News, November 17, 1880, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

Newspapers and the 1880 census show Will Vawter’s father Lewis working as a physician in Greenfield by 1879. The 1880 census confirms the family’s move.

[4] (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, March 5, 1891, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, April 9, 1891, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Notes of Newspaper Men,” Indianapolis News, December 5, 1891, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

                Will Vawter worked as an illustrator for the (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat before becoming an illustrator at the Indianapolis Sentinel and the Indianapolis News in 1891.

[5] (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, August 17, 1899, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Announcements of Fall Publications,” Indianapolis Journal, November 5, 1899, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Growing Popular with Literary People,” (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, July 20, 1899, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “New Authoress Rapidly Coming to the Front,” (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, September 21, 1899, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “Of Such Is the Kingdom,” Indianapolis Journal, December 11, 1899, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “The Rambler,” Book Buyer 19: 2 (September 1899), 83, accessed GoogleBooks; “Miss Clara Vawter Dead,” Indianapolis News, October 12, 1900, 14, accessed Newspapers.com; Clara Vawter, The Rabbit’s Ransom (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1902), accessed Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/scd0001.00025686172; Advertisement, Indianapolis Journal, December 2, 1902, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

                Will Vawter illustrated a book of children’s poetry called Of Such Is the Kingdom written by his sister Clara Vawter, published in 1899. The book was well received by the literary world and critics and was praised by Riley. Bown-Merrill reissued the work in 1902 as The Rabbit’s Ransom.

[6] “That Girl Wuz, and Is, I know, A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, August 30, 1893, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; James Whitcomb Riley, “Armazindy: A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, September 5, 1893, 13, accessed Newspapers.com; James Whitcomb Riley, Riley Child-Rhymes (Indianapolis and Kansas City: Bowen-Merrill Company, 1890, Reprint 1898), accessed GoogleBooks; “Books of the Week,” Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1898, 17, accessed Newspapers.com; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 8, 1898, 5, accessed Newspapers.com

In 1893, Vawter illustrated a poem James Whitcomb Riley wrote for a special edition of the Indianapolis Journal. This was the start of their long-lasting partnership.In 1898, Bowen-Merrill Company reissued a collection of James Whitcomb Riley verses as Riley Child-Rhymes which was illustrated by Vawter. By 1898, he was widely known as the illustrator of Riley’s children’s books. Vawter illustrated a front piece for Riley’s A Child-World, published 1897 and Home Folks, published 1900. Vawter illustrated Riley Farm-Rhymes (1901, 1905 editions),  The Book of Joyous Children (1902),  His Pa’s Romance (1903),  A Defective Santa Claus (1904),  Riley Songs O’ Cheer (1905 edition),  The Boys of the Old Glee Club (1907),  Riley Songs of Summer (1908),  Riley Songs of Home (1910),  Riley Songs of Friendship (1921 edition).  Other Riley Short Volumes illustrated by Vawter include Down Around the River and Other Poems (1911), Knee Deep in June and Other Poems (1912).

[7] (Greenfield ) Daily Reporter, October 9, 1908, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, April 7, 1909, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, May 11, 1909, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, May 13, 1909, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Vawter’s Brown County Home,” (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, August 8, 1909, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Rattlesnake Terrace, the Vawter Home,” (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, August 12, 1909, 6, accessed Newspapers.com; N. L., “A Day in the Artists’ Arcadia in Brown County,” (Muncie) Star Press, September 5, 1909, 14, accessed Newspapers.com; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, October 28, 1909, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

                In 1908, Will and Mary Vawter started spending a lot of time in Brown County. By spring of 1909, they owned a 157-acre farm in Brown County, half a mile south of Nashville. That summer Mary was busy designing and overseeing the building of a new home on the property; they lived in a barn on the property while the house was under construction. Will set up a studio in a cabin on the property where he painted and worked on newspaper illustrations. By October they had moved their household goods to the new home and put their Greenfield residence up for sale or rent.

[8] “Paintings and Other Work of Local Artists Exhibited,” Indianapolis News, December 17, 1917, 11, accessed Hoosier States Chronicles; “Indiana Artists’ Exhibition to Remain on View Five Weeks,” Indianapolis News, March 9, 1918, 14, accessed Hoosier States Chronicles; “Cheery Color Sense in Indiana Art Show,” Indianapolis News, March 16, 1918, 28, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Vawter exhibited his paintings with the other Brown County artists like William Forsyth, Otto Stark, and T. C. Steele.

[9] William Forsyth, “Art in Indiana,” Indianapolis News, September 27, 1916, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Paintings of Local Artists Exhibited,” Indianapolis News reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 27, 1917, 4, accessed Newspapers.com. “Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, September 17, 1919, 26, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; William Herschell, “Will Vawter’s Home in Brown County,” (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, August 5, 1920, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Art Notes,” Indianapolis News, December 4, 1920, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; John William Vawter, Barnes Cabin on Owl Creek, Brown County, circa 1920, Oil on Canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, accessed http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/54304/; Will Vawter, Sunshine and Hollyhocks, 1925, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection, published in Lyn Letsinger-Miller, Artists of Brown County (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), 41.

[10] “Exhibit of Paintings by Indiana Artists,” Indianapolis Journal, April 24, 1904, 16, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Paintings of Local Artists Exhibited,” Indianapolis News reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 27, 1917, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “With the Artists,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, November 29, 1928, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “46 Paintings by Brown County Artists Put on Display at Lieber’s Galleries,” Indianapolis Star, November 16, 1927, 24, accessed Newspapers.com; “Eight Hoosier Salon Will Be Held in Field Galleries Jan. 23 to Feb. 6,” Indianapolis Star, December 20, 1931, 50, accessed Newspapers.com; “Local Artist Has Fine Exhibit at Indianapolis,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, December 12, 1935, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; Lucille E. Morehouse, “In the World of Art: Brown County Landscapist Turns Marine Painter; One-Man Show at Lieber Gallery for Another Week,” Indianapolis Star, November 22, 1936, 65, accessed Newspapers.com; “Lucille E. Morehouse, “In the World of Art: Local Art Exhibitions Scheduled for December Are Distinctly Inviting and of Unusual Character,” Indianapolis Star, December 6, 1936, 75, accessed Newspapers.com; Lucille E. Morehouse, “Art: Late Paintings by Will Vawter Reveal Increased Interpretive Beauty,” Indianapolis Star, December 8, 1940, 76, accessed Newspapers.com.

Starting in 1914, the H. Lieber Co., the leading Indianapolis art dealer, exhibited Vawter’s work. In 1917, the gallery exhibited Vawter’s work along with leading Brown County Artist T.C. Steele. In 1928, 1931, 1935, 1936, and 1940 the art gallery at held a “one-man show” of Vawter’s landscape paintings. The Indianapolis Star’s art writer Lucille Morehouse stated that Vawter’s 1936 show “surpasses all previous showings by this gifted painter of lansdscape.”

[11] “Brown County Artists at Exhibit in Chicago,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, March 5, 1925, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Winter Scene Wins Prize for Artist,” Indianapolis Star, March 14, 1925, 11, accessed Newspapers.com; “Richmond Man Wins Art Prize,” Richmond Item, March 7, 1926, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Vawter Landscape Wins Prize in Exhibit at Hoosier Salon in Chicago Galleries,” Indianapolis News, January 31, 1928, 7, accessed Newspapers.com; “Eight Hoosier Salon Will Be Held in Field Galleries Jan. 23 to Feb. 6,” Indianapolis Star, December 20, 1931, 50, accessed Newspapers.com; “Eighth Annual Hoosier Art Salon Will Be Held in Field Galleries,” Franklin Evening Star, January 19, 1932, accessed Newspapers.com;

Hoosier Art Salon, accessed https://hoosiersalon.org/.

                The Daughters of Indiana, a group of Chicago residents originally from Indiana, started the “Hoosier Salon” in 1925. That year Vawter won the Frank Cunningham Prize for “best winter scene” for his work Our Alley. In 1926 he won the Daughters of Indiana Prize for “most typical Indiana scene.” In 1928, he won second place in the landscape category for Blossom Time. In 1931 and 1932, the Hoosier Salon set aside a gallery for a “one man show by Will Vawter.” In 1935, he won the Tri Kappa purchase proze for his “large Brown County landscape” titled Morning Light in the Woods. The yearly exhibition moved from Chicago to Indianapolis in 1940. As of 2020, the “Hoosier Art Salon” continues as a nonprofit and still holds the yearly exhibition.

[12] “Brown County Art Gallery at Nashville,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, September 2, 1926, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Open Art Gallery in Brown County,” Indianapolis Star, October 9, 1926, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “Art Gallery Association Grown Rapidly,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, September 16, 1926, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Open Art Gallery in Brown County,” Indianapolis Star, October 9, 1926, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “New Paintings Hung at Art Gallery,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, July 25, 1929, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Vawter Heads Local Artists’ Association,” (Nashville) Brown County Democrat, October 23, 1930, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

In 1926 Vawter and other local artists and businessmen organized the Brown County Art Gallery Association with the goal of creating an art gallery in Nashville for “continuous exhibition of Brown County art.”  Vawter served as an officer of the association and exhibited regularly. He first served as one of seven directors in 1926 and then as president in 1930.

[13] Indiana State Board of Health, John William Vawter Certificate of Death, February 11, 1941, Marion, Indiana, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Death Certificates, 1941, Roll 3, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Will Vawter, Artist and Illustrator, Dies at 69; Was Friend of Riley,” Indianapolis Star, February 12, 1941, 25, accessed Newspapers.com; Frank M. Hohenberger, “Will Vawter 69 Passes Away, Brown County Democrat, February 13, 1941, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.