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Moment of Indiana History

Ex Libris Indiana

One of the first serious studies of Indiana art sidestepped the state's Impressionist painters for its bookplate designers.

One of the first serious studies of Indiana art wasn’t a monograph on the now canonical Hoosier School of painters. While T.C. Steele and Otto Stark were mentioned, the book’s ostensible subject was a less prominent art form.

Indiana Bookplates came out in 1910 to positive reviews in The New York Times and The Indianapolis Star. The art form flourished at the turn of the century, and author Esther Griffin White was a collector of the personalized labels designed to paste inside books. A member of two international Ex Libre societies, White had exhibited her own collection of bookplates in cities across Indiana.

For the book, White culled designs from established and emerging Hoosier artists alike, along with bookplates commissioned by prominent writers and politicians. Hoosier School painter William Forsyth was represented, but so was Mary Overbeck, one of the four Cambridge City sisters whose art pottery was only later recognized and collected.

White’s book also catalogued bookplates designed for authors James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, and Edward Eggleston as well as Governor Thomas R. Marshall.

Cutting a wide swath through the state’s cultural scene, Indiana Bookplates included essays on Hoosier painters—not only those who would later put Brown County on the map—but such Wayne County artists as John E. Bundy, Charles Conner, and George H. Baker.

For further reading:

George T. Blakey. “Esther Griffin White: An Awakener of Hoosier Potential”. Indiana Magazine of History, 86, 3 (1990): 281-310.

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