T. C. Steele, Founder of the Hoosier Group and Famous Indianapolis Artist

T. C. Steele was an important early member and forefather of the Indianapolis art community. Though he was not born in Indianapolis, he spent much of his creative life there and his name is etched permanently on the list of famous people from Indianapolis.

Theodore Clement Steele is considered the foremost founder of the famous “Hoosier Group,” a quintet of Indianapolis artists who pioneered the “plein air” (outdoors) style of painting in America. The four other now internationally recognized members of The Hoosier Group are William Forsythe, John Ottis Adams, Richard Gruelle and Otto Starke.

During the 1880s, T.C. Steele and his fellow art students raised money to study in Munich as a group. Upon returning to Indiana, the group recognized a thread of commonality in their artistic pursuits and they banded together to develop a new art movement of their own.

By 1904, The Hoosier Group was famous across the nation, and an entire building at the World’s Fair in St. Louis was given over to their group exhibition. The goal of bringing the true beauty of Indiana to the world had been met and surpassed.

Informative video lecture about The Hoosier Group, which Indianapolis artist T.C. Steele helped to found.


An impressionist through and through, Steele worked professionally painting portraits. His subjects included several Indiana state governors, as well as James Whitcomb Riley, beloved Hoosier Poet. In 1913, T.C. Steele was inducted into the National Academy of Design. He was also granted an honorary Master’s from Wabash College, and an honorary PhD from his alma mater, Indiana University.

The T.C. Steele family lived in what is now known as the Tinker Mansion, or the Talbot House, around the turn of the 20th century. This building is not only a part of Indianapolis history today, but was also the original site of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, currently one of the premier tourist attractions in Indianapolis.

Steele was born in 1847 and died at the ripe old age of 78, after an extraordinary career. His paintings are collector’s items valued in the hundreds of thousands in today’s market. The T.C. Steele Elementary School and the T.C. Steele Boys & Girls Club were named for the influential artist. The T.C. Steele art museum is in nearby Nashville, Indiana, which makes it a nice day trip from Indianapolis.

The legacy of The Hoosier Group remains a great influence still, and their offshoot, the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association, has had a great effect on American art as a whole, and Midwest impressionistic art in particular.

Visit the Friends of T.C. Steele website

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