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Brown County/Art Colony, Indiana

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Did You Know … ?

  • Brown County hosts the world’s longest-running bluegrass festival, dating from 1967.
  • Artists came to rural Indiana for its vistas, inspired by the Impressionists who painted in the countryside.
  • County village names include Bean Blossom and Gnaw Bone, not to mention Stone Head.
  • Brown County only has three intersections with traffic lights, all in Nashville.
  • The county’s population crashed due to over farming; the population finally surpassed 1890’s 10,308 residents in 1980.

The arts and autumn leaves

The arts and rural America meet in Brown County in south central Indiana. In fact, they met there more than a hundred years ago, when Impressionist painter T.C. Steele bought a former farm near Nashville, the county seat, in 1907. Over the years other artists followed, thereby establishing the Art Colony of the Midwest in Brown County and setting a pattern that remains unbroken.

Bill Monroe, called the father of bluegrass, brought the sounds to complement the visual arts. In 1951, he, too, bought land in the county, land that is now the Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground and host to an annual bluegrass festival a lot more music events from June through October.

Steele and those who followed him were attracted to Brown County by its beauty and, in the case of Steele, inspired to paint it. That natural attractiveness is little disturbed because large swathes of the county are parklands and protected forests. Nashville, with a population of about a thousand, is the only incorporated town. The entire county is home to only about 15,000 people, the remainder scattered among a score or so unincorporated villages.

The result is a combination of natural terrain, flora — and occasional manmade lake — that invites anglers, campers, cyclists and hikers to south central Indiana. Entrepreneurs also offer options such as off-road driving or ziplining. And, all visitors love the fall colors in the parks and forests, making autumn a very busy time in a county with few people.

But it’s the Art Colony that makes Brown County unique. Tourists can visit the studios and galleries of more than 250 local artists, including not just painters, photographers and sculptors, but also master glassmakers, jewelers, potters, weavers, wood carvers and more. Artists are located in Nashville and in smaller hamlets beyond. Visitors may come to buy or just to admire — or to attend demonstrations and workshops led by the artists themselves. Sessions may involve, for example, working with clay or glass, weaving or painting watercolors.

Finally, while the Bill Monroe park hosts numerous music events, more informally, visitors may find musicians jamming at eateries, breweries and wineries.

Things to do for Venturers

  • The Brown County State Park has the trails for mountain bikers at all experience levels. Take advantage.
  • Bring a team and compete in the Nashcar Outhouse Races in September in Nashville. The races are part of a larger county picnic that is, in fact, a charity event, the Abe Martin County Picnic. Compete in the plunger toss and corn hole (tossing a bag of corn through a hole) competitions, too.
  • Try the nighttime zipline option at eXplore Brown County adventure center. Or, take an ATV off-road driving tour while on site (in daytime though).
  • Camp in tents at the Brown County State Park. RV sites and on-site lodging also are available.
  • Come to the Bill Monroe Music Park and Campgrounds in Bean Blossom for the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in June. See the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Country Star Museum here, and camp on site. There also are other music events here during summer and into fall, including the Blues Fest in late summer.
  • Choose your hiking trail. Brown County State Park maintains a dozen, ranging in difficulty from easy to rugged.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Visit the home of T.C. Steele, the Impressionist painter who led the way for other artists who moved to Brown County beginning in the early 20th century. At the T.C. Steele State Historic Site, see dozens of his paintings, participate in events and hike on the property.
  • Head to the Homesteads Weaving Studio for a workshop in weaving. Numerous artisans offer demonstrations, classes and workshops in glassworks, pottery making, weaving, watercolor and more.
  • Get the fishing license and try your luck at the manmade Sundance Lake in Hoosier National Forest.
  • Make the rounds of studios and galleries in Nashville and outside the town. Pick up a map for the self-drive Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour. Buy fine art or works of glassmakers, potters or other artisans.
  • Attend beginner or advanced guitar workshops at the Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Festival, held in Nashville at the end of July or early August. The central event is a daylong competition among America’s top players.
  • Overnight at the Story Inn, a country B&B that occupies the former town of Story. Guestrooms are on the second floor of the Old General Store.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Come to Brown County for the fall colors. Carry the camera into the parks and forests.
  • Shop in the Brown County Old County Store. Buy novelty items you didn’t know you wanted. Hungry? Drop in at the Nashville House, a restaurant and country store.
  • Take photos of Bean Blossom Covered Bridge. Apparently, nearly everyone else does.
  • Take the Village Art Walk in central Nashville any second Saturday April to December. The event highlights 13 galleries showcasing original local and regional arts and crafts.
  • Divert your kids with the outdoor Melchior Marionette Theatre in Nashville, or divert yourself with these short presentations.
  • Pan for arrowheads, fossils and gems at the Copperhead Creek Gem Mine and Rock Shop.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.browncounty.com