Wonderland Way coloring book: reducing stress, building community

1st May 2020

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Are you feeling closed-in, locked-down and stressed-out?

The Ogle Center has a way for you to get up and out, without leaving your room.

It’s a coloring book for people of all ages that brings landscape paintings from the James L. Russell Wonderland Way Collection at IU Southeast to your home computer or laptop, allowing you to tap into your creativity while connecting with community history.

The 1906 opening of the Art Shop in New Albany by James L. Russell created an influential venue for regional art in the Southern Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky, area. It became a gathering place for artists and led to the formation of an art club. The artists who formed the club took the club’s name from a network of roads going along the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio to Mount Vernon, Illinois, that was designated the Wonderland Way in an effort to promote tourism by automobile.

Kathy Russell Smith, granddaughter of James L. Russell, and her husband, Don Smith, greatly desired a permanent collection of works by Wonderland Way Artists be made available for the benefit of our region. They have spearheaded efforts in making the James L. Russell Wonderland Way Collection a reality at IU Southeast.

For the book, Ken Atkins, marketing manager for the Ogle Center, is rendering selected works from the collection to line drawings.

As a first step, Atkins chooses paintings that have a broad resonance, such as those that depict landmarks of the region, such as New Albany’s Town Clock Church and Huber’s Farm. Sometimes technical considerations narrow the list of possibilities.

“Many of the paintings simply do not lend themselves well to the process of creating outlines,” Atkins said. “Images with clear, defined edges of the objects in the paintings are easier to convert to outline images for the coloring book.”

Once a painting has been selected, Atkins imports a photo of it into Adobe PhotoShop, where he adjusts colors, contrast levels, brightness and other aspects. Then he imports it into Adobe Illustrator, where the image can be traced and the outlines captured.

The Ogle Center’s coloring book initiative dovetails with an initiative launched within the Arts & Culture Alliance (ACA).

The ACA is a network of decision-makers representing arts and cultural attractions in the Greater Louisville Region and Southern Indiana who are working together to identify common goals and pursue projects and events that accomplish common objectives.

To infuse daily life with creativity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACA has launched an activity book with projects that people can do at home.

As the Arts & Culture at Home booklet was being discussed, the Ogle Center, an ACA member, agreed to contribute three pages from its own ongoing project.

One of the most affecting works is Tulips in a Blue Vase (1928) by Hundley Love Wells Coolman.

Born in New Albany, Indiana in 1890, Hundley was a member of the Wonderland Way Art Club. After the death of the club’s founder James L. Russell in 1937, she served as its president until it disbanded a short time later.

Technically, the painting’s tonal intricacy presents challenges, according to Atkins, and may be more suited to young adults or adults.

Tulips in a Blue Vase
Tulips in a Blue Vase (detail) by Hundley Love Wells Coolman, oil on canvas, 1928.
A coloring-book rendering of Coolman’s Tulips in a Blue Vase.

It’s not quite art therapy, but the concentration expended in coloring may help people de-stress through creativity.

“Coloring provides a distraction and means of occupying one’s time during this period of isolation, giving us something on which to focus other than the problems of the world,” Atkins said.

The first three paintings of the coloring book will be distributed by the ACA through its online channels.  The larger Ogle Center project will also be distributed online, as well as through social media, while a print version is also under consideration.

Besides helping people relax and connect with community, the coloring project may also become a gateway to greater artistic activity.

“Anecdotally, adults who engage in coloring activities often find that they become more creative, in general,” Atkins said. “Or at least their perception of their ability to be more creative changes positively.”

Through the activity booklet and coloring book, the James L. Russell Wonderland Way collection continues to provide an opportunity to those interested in preserving the history and heritage of the art of the region for future generations.

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