Historical Treasure: William Turman Painting | Life in the valley
This week’s historical treasure is a painting by William Thomas Turman, born 1867 in Graysville, Indiana. He attended United Christian College in Merom, Indiana, then trained in art in Pennsylvania and Chicago. In 1894 he began teaching art at Indiana State Normal School. He taught there for 40 years. In 1939 he became the first chairman of the board of the Swope Art Gallery and held this position for 18 years.
Turman was a prolific painter specializing in landscapes. In 1924, when he organized what the Terre Haute Saturday Spectator claimed to be his first exhibition at the Fairbanks library, he had 45 paintings to display. Although it included portraits of his wife and children, most of his work depicted rural scenes around Terre Haute. He could be found sketching the landscape around town whenever he had free time. In the 1920s, Turman also began painting scenes from the area around Bakersfield, California, including Kern River Canyon.
As an educator, Turman had a profound influence on the art and artists of Terre Haute. The Indiana State University art gallery is named after him, and the Woodrow Wilson School murals include a striking image of Professor Turman in the center of the south wall, a tribute by the painter of the mural, Gilbert Wilson, who had studied under Turman. Turman also took an active interest in Indiana painter Walter Sies, the artist behind a painting of Fort Harrison in the museum’s collection, and he traced the history of the work and left an account of it. Throughout his career he has been one of the most important figures in the Terre Haute art world, serving as a host for visiting artists, teaching, judging and working with the Heminway Art Studio of the city.
Turman’s landscape in the museum is dated 1925. With a mountain in the background and the top of a stucco building among a few trees, it does not appear to be an Indiana scene and may have been one Californian works by Turman. After his retirement, Turman moved permanently to California. In 1958 he donated 34 of his paintings to the Swope, returning them to Terre Haute with instructions for the museum to put them up for sale and use the proceeds for the foundation. Turman’s signed works were a popular item in the city, and perhaps it was through this sale that the museum eventually acquired their Turman. There are also several works by Turman in the collection at the Swope, where a major exhibition of his work was held in 2012. In 1964, Turman dedicated 23 paintings to the Graysville school which has since acquired more than a legacy lasting to one of Terre Haute’s most prolific painters.
The Vigo County History Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit https://www.vchsmuseum.org/ or call 812-235-9717 for information on admission tickets, upcoming events and museum membership.