Plein Air, a painting experience at McCloud Nature Park

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I am a nature girl.  I love trails, trees and well, nature, but a painter I’m not.  However, Rachel Davis from The Purple Palette did her best to bring out the artist in me!  Along with a group of travel writers I had the chance to do a plein air experience, ala indoors. The term “plein air” comes from the French phrase en plein air, meaning “in open air.” Since it had been raining earlier in the day, we gathered around in the wide window lit area of the nature center.  We were eye to eye with an active chipmunk who entertained us jumping between the bird feeder and the glass. in the enclosed outdoor area.

Rachel Davis had  brought all the supplies, all we had to do was show up, listen and paint!

The nature center itself is very cool with displays to examine.  It is set on the 232 acres of McCloud Nature Park. The park boasts over six miles of hiking trails, with access to Big Walnut Creek, year-round programs at the Nature Center and a wide variety of wildlife viewing opportunities. When it dried up outside a bit, during a break, we went out and walked over the 100 plus truss bridge near the area we were replicating in our paintings.

What is really cool was although today this is a nature park, previously it had been a resort owned by a Danville,  Indiana attorney named Frank Davidson.  He had bought hundreds of acres (including where the park is now) and built up a resort-like setting in the early 1900s. The resort included a lodge that today is a private residence, and  several cabins, walking trails, a driving range and tennis courts.

According to the “Our History” website on the park, “After Davidson’s death in 1951, the property passed through many hands until one parcel was owned by Brian Molloy and Kay Koch, and another parcel was owned by Glen and Mildred Harlos. In March of 2000, the Hendricks County Council created the Hendricks County Department of Parks and Recreation, and shortly thereafter, the Hendricks County Park Board purchased the Koch-Molloy and Harlos properties. On May 3, 2003, the 232-acre McCloud Nature Park formally opened to the public.”

Inside the nature center, we continued with our painstaking exercises in art and Rachel with the patience of Job told us step, by step how to recreate the picture she held up for us.  It was great fun to feel like a kid with an apron and paint brush and canvas and try to create an art piece my children would fight over.  I could see it in my mind’s eye sitting over the fire place until I died and at the reading of the will my three children and maybe my grandkids would be saying, “All I want is Mom’s painting!”

Its not a beauty, I admit, but the creek, path and grassy area took on at least a recognizable form.  When I got home, my husband  turned it upside down and said, “That’s nice.”

My son just snickered and my mom said, “We all have our talents.”

Oh well, I had fun and it is temporarily on display in my dining room. 

I loved the beauty of the McCloud park and a chance to get out and stretch in nature.  I was impressed with the bee hive they have onsite that you can look in and see the bees at work.  The bees come and go as they wish. There were two hives and the ranger said that they never go in the wrong one because one bee is not welcome in another’s hive.  I guess its like if a child that wasn’t yours showed up with a backpack to stay for an extensive amount of time!

The Purple Palette offers these classes on a regular basis and generally they are outside.  If you get a chance to sign up and try your hand at this fun open air experience jump at it.  Its not that many times that we as adults get to step back into the classroom and play like kids.  I admit, its good for the soul.  A little sky, a little trail, a bridge and some trees can do a lot to remove the stresses of everyday life and balance you, reminding you of what is important again.

For more information, log onto http://hendrickscountyparks.org/programs/plein-air-painting/.