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Saturday, May 3, 2014

William Forsythe

Constitutional Elm, Corydon, Indiana, 1896, William Forsythe
Though not officially a self-portrait,
William Forsythe's The Painter Man,
from 1923, closely resembles
drawings and photos of the artist.
Whenever I come upon an artist from my own state of Ohio, I always make an effort to get to know him or her better. And nothing better suits that purpose than to write about such artists here in these "pages" so as I might "give them their due." William J. Forsythe was one such artist. Born in 1854 in California, Ohio, an up-river suburb of Cincinnati. However, aside from his birthplace, Forsythe is more closely connected to Indiana than Ohio. That's where his family moved when he was ten. Forsythe spent the rest of his childhood in Versailles, Indiana where he drew incessantly, often on the walls of the family home. At eleven or twelve, he may have been the youngest artist to ever have his own studio, a spare room painted black with a fireplace, the mantel of which double as an easel for the boy.
At the age of fifteen, young William talked his father into letting him move to Indianapolis and study under Barton S. Hayes and John Washington Love, whom Forsythe described as a tall, blond, giant. That's not surprising coming from William Forsythe who, even as an adult, barely stood five foot tall and has been described as "little cocky bantam rooster, with a feisty way about him, ornery, with a quick temper, and a lover of a good argument." I'm glad he was never one of my students.

Autumn Scene, William Forsythe
In 1873, William and his brother became painters, that is. In his spare time, William haunted the studios of various Indianapolis artists' and museums absorbing all he could from such efforts. When Love and another artist opened the Indiana School of Art in 1877, Forsythe became their first student and later the school's third instructor. When the school was forced to close, Forsythe talked a local merchant into financing his move to Munich, Germany, to study with his friend, Theodore Clement Steele. During the summer they traveled about Europe painting, then sent their work home to be sold in order to cover the cost of another year of schooling at Munich's Royal Academy.
Venice, 1885, William Forsythe

The Art Jury by Wayman Adams,
(1921) depicts the main artists of
the Hoosier Group, T. C. Steele,
Otto Stark, J. Ottis Adams, and
the little guy on the right,
William Forsyth.
Even after finishing his studies in Munich, Forsythe remained, sharing a studio with fellow Hoosier, J. Ottis Adams. Venice (above) was a Forsythe watercolor from about this time. Several years later, Forsythe, Adams, Steele, and another Indianapolis artist, Otto Stark, along with about fifteen others, joined together calling themselves the Hoosier Group to paint, influence one another, and exhibit together. Forsythe went on to help establish the Herron School of Art, now the Indiana University school of art. Forsythe taught there from about 1906 until 1933. True to form, he was much the same type of instructor as when he'd been a student, tactless and sarcastic, but also a lifelong friend and encourager. However, in 1933, when the Depression forced a cutback in faculty, Forsythe and his artist daughter, Constance, were both let go. Forsythe was nearly eighty and quite ill-prepared financially and emotionally for his abrupt dismissal. He found work painting hospital murals for the WPA, but old age and declining health led to a heart attack a year later and his death from kidney failure in 1935 at the age of eighty-one.


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