The Chowning Mystique

More Edward Chowning paintings
revealed in downtown Madison

Wall mural is a featured attraction
at local orthodontist office

• Editor’s Note: This article is a follow up to our January cover story on the late Madison, Ind., artist Edward C. Chowning.

(February 2015) – The story of Madison artist Edward Chowning continues to unfold. A young man at the time of his death in 1935, Chowning, age 40, seemed to have been in the middle of his artistic journey when it came to a tragic end following an illness that lasted a month. It seems that a timeline of his learning process is becoming more clear.
Suzanne Denton Strahle has revealed yet another Chowning mural that was discovered on a wall of his previous home at 410 West St. in Madison, Ind. Strahle inherited the property from her first marriage. The property had been purchased by her in-laws in 1955 from the artist’s widow, Anna.

Brenda Eversole

Photo by Jenny Straub Youngblood

Brenda Eversole of Madison, Ind., displays one of two Edward C. Chowning paintings she owns.

For many years, the building was home to the Spaulding Dental Office. However, when the Spauldings moved to another location in the 1980s, orthodontists Dr. Michael Badger and Dr. Robert Spiller who operated at their business on the second floor requested to move downstairs.
Before this move occurred, the space underwent a total renovation. It was soon discovered that the back room was an addition when an interior brick wall was uncovered. Removing a closet from this area revealed a Chowning mural.
Strahle immediately recognized the historic significance of this mural and had it restored by local art expert Emmett Wood. He died in 1999.
The scene is not typical of a Chowning since it features a bird that is very tropical in appearance and would not be a species native to the local area. The bird is perched in what appears to be a dogwood or apple tree. The fact that this painting exists in what had been his home is an indication that it was done in the early stages of Chowning’s art career as practice. According to Heather Jackson, the new patient coordinator for Drs. Badger and Spiller, the mural has sparked the curiosity of many adult patients of the orthodontists.
It has also become clear that the river scene painted by Chowning on at least two occasions, that features a riverboat in the distance, was most likely a study of a William McKendree Snyder painting. Snyder, a well-known Madison artist of the time, had apparently been a mentor of sorts to Chowning.
This painting is featured on the Indiana Paintings website. Operated by Chris Powell, the website specializes in Midwestern paintings. According to Powell, the Snyder painting features no date but was most likely completed between 1910 and 1915, since the painting is similar in style to other paintings by Snyder in that time frame. Since Chowning was a student of Snyder’s, it is likely that Snyder had Chowning make his own version of a completed painting.

Suzanne Strahle

Photo by Jenny Straub Youngblood

Suzanne Denton-Strahl stands by a Chowning wall mural found in the building that Strahle owns and was once the Chowning family home at 410 West St., Madison.

According to Hanover College Professor of Art Rick Bennett, it is not uncommon for a student to complete a study of another artist’s work, since it helps the student to appreciate artwork on a more technical level. He adds that a lot of artists tend to experience different periods in their artwork.
For example, an artist who paints from life may continue to develop his realistic style to the point that his paintings may resemble a photograph. While this is the final goal for some painters, others may continue to a more stylized or abstract method of art. It does seem that the more Chowning painted the more realistic his paintings became.
This is evident in the paintings owned by Madison resident and Realtor Brenda Eversole. She first saw the paintings when she was helping a friend clear a property of belongings to prepare it for sale. The landscape paintings featuring beech trees were found in the attic and placed in an auction. Eversole said that she was immediately drawn to the works, since she felt they would complement a painting done by her mother-in-law.
Of course, she attended the auction and was very happy to obtain both paintings. Both works are signed and both seem to be influenced by Chowning’s relationship with his art instructor. “If it wasn’t signed, I would think it was a Snyder,” says Eversole.
High praise indeed and evidence that Chowning was progressing in his artistic skill and his ability to paint from life. One of these paintings is in the process of being restored in Ohio. The other remains in the state it was found. Despite being in need of a good cleaning and needing some canvas repairs, the painting is quite captivating. It features a lane winding next to a stream as it flows through a wooded area.
“It’s very peaceful,” says Eversole.
It is certain that Chowning would have been pleased to have his work so admired. That being said, one can only imagine where his artistic endeavors would have taken him next had his life not ended so abruptly and at such a young age.

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