GREENFIELD — Watercolorist Cathleen Huffman has been painting grain elevators since 2004.
This month, the Indiana Bicentennial Commission endorsed her proposal for “Indiana’s Historic Grain Elevators” as a Bicentennial Legacy Project, and she is thrilled.
“It’s not a grant or any kind of award,” Huffman said. “But it’s an incentive to finish my project of documenting Indiana’s grain elevators through painting and photography.”
Many of Indiana’s grain elevators, which were once a staple in small-town America, are gone. Those not already demolished have often fallen into disrepair.
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“All towns had grain elevators,” Huffman said. “They were a part of Indiana’s agricultural history and the Midwestern landscape.”
Huffman has more than a year to complete the project. She has already photographed 92 separate grain elevators. She has more than 20 paintings in the works with about a dozen completed. A gallery showing has been scheduled at the Creative Arts and Event Center in December 2016 to help Hancock County celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial.
Huffman said she enjoys tracking down the small-town grain elevator sites.
“The hunt is really, really fun,” Huffman said. “When you drive into one of these small towns and find it’s still standing, it’s really rewarding, and some are even still operating.”
That’s not always the case, however. Huffman recounted the story of the Rosston grain elevator in Boone County. She drove into town and found it — in four separate dumpsters.
The story has a somewhat happy ending, though. Huffman received a call from a friend asking if she would be interested in an old sepia-toned photo of the friend’s great-grandfather standing in front of an elevator — the Rosston grain elevator. Her upcoming exhibit will include a painting of the now-demolished elevator.
“At least I have a photo of what it used to look like,” Huffman said.
Although she said she is still hoping for a financial sponsor, Huffman’s project has some strong backing. Greenfield Historic Landmarks is her sponsor, with other local organizations such as Greenfield Main Street and Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department all being very supportive of her work. She also has the endorsement of Indiana Landmarks.
Bob Hunt, owner of the Creative Arts and Event Center, has worked with Huffman on the Greenfield Historic Landmarks board.
“What she’s doing is great,” Hunt said. “In 30 years, all the grain elevators will be gone except in photos and painting.”
Huffman’s interest in painting started 15 years ago when she quit her job as a technical illustrator to stay home with her children. She said she has always loved historical architecture, and she recalled painting her first grain elevator.
“I was amazed at how these two things that I loved could come together: watercolor painting and historic architecture,” Huffman said.
Huffman, a signature member of the Watercolor Society of Indiana, has done paintings of the Hancock County Courthouse, the Riley Home, a former Friends church building on State Road 9, Hancock County’s iron bridge, many small-town streetscapes, and some commissioned work of historic homes.
She recently returned from the Bo ston area, where she had the privilege to study under Charles Reid, an internationally known watercolorist.
Huffman shared a map documenting the known locations of where grain elevators are still standing or where they used to stand, with a map key of how many can be found in each county in Indiana and how many she has visited thus far. She also has a thick binder of photographs of grain elevators, but she welcomes the public’s help.
If anyone out there has any photographs of Indiana’s grain elevators or any information on them, she said she hopes they’ll share them.
She can be contacted through cathleenhuffman.com.
“I’ve gotten great stories from the community,” Huffman said.
Huffman said the project is one that will never really be finished. She is documenting Indiana’s story.
“In the case of the grain elevators, they won’t be around much longer,” Huffman said. “The documentation will be all that’s left.”