TERRE HAUTE —
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
Free flowing and untamed, the river’s banks often test human visitors. Rocks, trees and grassy weeds line its shores for most of its 474 miles. Parks and public access points in several towns give people a more comfortable peek at the murky stream. Its most scenic vistas, though, can’t be seen from a highway, parking lot or picnic table. The Wabash looks its finest at water’s edge, where nature rules and man’s domain lies over the bank, out of sight.
Nancy Nichols-Pethick set up her easel there, atop uneven stones, mossy dirt and marshy weeds.
Thank goodness she did, capturing the visuals on canvas with oil paintings and pastel drawings at various riverside locations while exploring the Wabash last year from Huntington in northern Indiana to New Harmony near its southern confluence with the Ohio River. Too few Hoosiers ever witness the Wabash from such a perspective. Nichols-Pethick’s artwork gives them a chance to see what they’ve missed.
“In most places, you have this beautiful river flowing and all this wildlife, and you wish more people would be enjoying it,” she said.
Those who dropped in at the Turman Art Gallery on the Indiana State University campus earlier this month got a glimpse of such images. The gallery exhibited nearly 30 of her Wabash River pieces, collectively entitled “Notes on a River.” They’ll go on display again March 3-21 at Marian University in Indianapolis, with a reception 4 to 6 p.m. March 6. The pictures emanated from Huntington, Delphi, Americus, Tecumseh, Clinton, Terre Haute, Hutsonville, Merom and Harmonie State Park at New Harmony.
She painted and drew quickly, preserving a brief moment. The sunlight and reflections changed by the minute. She created artistic snapshots, sometimes camping to motor her “mobile studio” — a Chrysler minivan — to a destination just in time to catch a sunset or sunrise. She started in the days of heat and lush foilage of August and by October and November, the falling leaves exposed the vastness of the valley.
In autumn, “it was really overcast and really foggy,” Nichols-Pethick recalled. “You can go back to the same place again and again and again, and it’s never the same.”
Nichols-Pethick toured the Wabash as her sabbatical project during the fall semester at ISU, where she teaches painting as an assistant professor of art. The local community’s 2013 Year of the River celebration sparked her idea. Born in Alaska and raised in rural Maine, she experienced the wilderness on family camping trips. Her dad was an outdoorsman and an artist, who drew the woods and lakefronts using charcoal pencils and an easel.
Thirty years later, Nancy was doing the same thing on the banks of the Wabash in her adopted state of Indiana, where she and her husband have lived since the mid-1990s, eventually raising their two young kids here. Some lifelong Hoosiers expressed surprise when Nichols-Pethick described various places along the river she chose to depict on canvas.
“The people who grew up near it, their reaction was, ‘Why would you want to paint that?’” she recalled, “and I think it goes back to the fact that we have this wonderful natural resource and we aren’t really taking advantage of it.”
That said, Nichols-Pethick realizes, in some ways, the Wabash benefits from being overlooked by man. Unlike other rivers that accommodate commercial shipping and barges, the unnavigable Wabash flows with little human interference. Its only dam lies near Huntington. From there, it meanders for 411 miles, unrestricted. Maintaining “a balance” between making the river more accessible to more people, and protecting its wild freedom, matters greatly to her.
The 44-year-old artist walked — or, more accurately, hiked — that thin line to craft her pictures. She hunted the undeveloped stretches of the Wabash and stuck to those.
“It’s hard to get the view I really enjoy — the natural, untouched beauty,” she said.
Just a few miles from the dam at Roush Lake, the river gets back to its natural self at Huntington’s Forks of the Wabash Historical Park. The Wabash and Little Wabash rivers converge there, blending two tints of water in eye-catching fashion. It became one of Nichols-Pethick’s favorite spots during her journey.
The stream ran shallow there. She ventured out on some rocks. The Wabash stretched out ahead.
“I enjoyed getting that long view of the river,” she said. “I know it a lot better than when I started, but I know there’s more I can still see.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
Blake Griffin remembers when he and his brother, Dale, would ride their bikes along wooded trails in the wilderness area of Fowler Park.
Officials say city ‘overspent’
Two Terre Haute councilmen told the Taxpayers Association of Vigo County Thursday they think the city is overspending, but they gave no solutions to reduce expenses.
Block downtown to close for repairs
A sinkhole is forcing the temporary closure of a major downtown street beginning Monday.
Wave of retirees at Vigo schools
Valarie Bailey has worked for the Vigo County School Corp. for 26 years in roles that included at-risk counselor, school social worker, assistant student services director and curriculum coordinator.
Fire house to fire dept.
A legal battle has been resolved to restore ownership of the community fire station in Fayette Township.
14th Street, from Oak to Poplar streets, will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 9 for Friends and Family Weekend.
August Fire Safety Tip
Monthly safety hint — Barbeque/grilling safety
Westminster Village, a Terre Haute retirement community, is investing $1.8 million to construct 12 new villa homes, officials announced Wednesday.
Decades later, dry cleaners leave blemish
Fifty years ago, about 30 dry cleaners did business in the city of Terre Haute. City officials are now cleaning up the mess some left behind.
MARK BENNETT: Year of River sets example for state
Terre Haute pays more attention to the Wabash River these days.
Climate of less regulation, more chemical spills leaves ‘historical pollution,’ NCA director says
Former dry cleaning sites are an environmental problem all over the state, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Camping turnout low for first half of summer
Camping revenue for the past two months has dropped in Vigo County parks, a downturn park officials say is difficult to attribute to a new park policy limiting campers’ stays to 14 days in the three county parks.
Devastating fire takes out mobile home
A Seelyville mobile home sustained heavy damage in a fire early Wednesday morning.
Lost Creek Township firefighters were called to the scene in the 2200 block of Tabortown Road south of U.S. 40 at about 2 a.m.
Man posts bond after fatal wreck
An Oct. 7 trial date has been set for a Terre Haute man accused of driving while intoxicated causing death.
Driver injured, airlifted, cited for failure to yield
An elderly woman was injured in a crash Wednesday afternoon in Sullivan County, according to Indiana State Police.
Bobby “Slick” Leonard was the main attraction but his hometown, Terre Haute, was constantly in the background as friends, fans and family gathered in Indianapolis Tuesday night to honor the man famous for the words “Boom Baby.”
Sister-city students get a dose of ‘new culture’
One of Juri Sawada’s dreams has been to visit America.
Motion delays trial for 2012 homicide
A man who has been jailed about 20 months in connection with the homicide of his wife will not go on trial next week as scheduled.
Sheriff charged in prostitution case
Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden has spent more than 30 years in law enforcement working to protect the public from criminals, but on Tuesday he was treated as one.
Vigo Parks dishing out the sweetness
Vigo County Parks and Recreation has made a “sweet” addition to its maple syrup production at Prairie Creek Park.
Danny Rodden indicted on federal charges
Instead of overseeing the operations of the Clark County jail and police force Tuesday, Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden found himself being transported by the FBI to Indianapolis to answer federal charges.
Woman’s condition ‘fair’ after grocery store wreck
A Terre Haute woman was listed in fair condition Tuesday at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis as the result of injuries sustained in Monday’s accident on the Baesler’s Market parking lot.
Semi driver cited for alcohol use
A commercial vehicle driver has been placed out of service after he tested positive for alcohol consumption during a Tuesday morning traffic stop in Sullivan County.
Church to give out school backpacks
United Methodist Temple will stage its first-ever Back-2-School Bash from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 9.
The church is located at 5301 S. U.S. 41.
Bus safety features
New safety features on South Vermillion School Corp. buses have led to fewer disciplinary problems and fewer incidents of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses, officials say.
Humvee driver says foot caused fatal accident
Kyle Pendergast, 22, the Terre Haute driver of a black Humvee charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing the death of a teenager, has told police he could not turn the wheel before the vehicle flipped in a field in an early Saturday morning accident.
Cleaner may have contaminated water
Groundwater and soil testing is set to begin within a week to learn whether toxic chemicals might have seeped into the wells of a small southside neighborhood and even beyond.
Housing Authority’s Warren Village nearing completion
Construction on the newest Terre Haute Housing Authority property – Warren Village – should wrap up next month, a housing authority official said Monday.
Observers predict ‘wide open’ process of picking next chief
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson surprised observers in June when he decided to step down after a brief tenure as the state’s top judge.
Multi-vehicle accident in parking lot
A woman was hospitalized with injuries after a multiple-vehicle accident late Monday morning in the Baesler’s Market parking lot on Poplar Street
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