Steve Charles—We featured Jim Urbaska’s oil paintings of the region near his home in West Brattleboro, Vermont in the Summer 2004 issue of Wabash Magazine, so I arrived at the opening of his show in Indianapolis with plenty of respect for his work.

What I hadn’t realized was that Jim’s Indy show features his new paintings of Indiana. I walked into the Ruschman Gallery on a frigid early December night and was warmed not only by the gallery’s central heating, but by the beautiful and strangely familiar light emanating from Urbaska’s linen canvases.

These were paintings of places I know—the hayfields around the T.C. Steele Memorial, forests along Old State Road 37, pine-laden peninsulas jutting into Lake Monroe. My gaze went instantly to a scene of Yellowwood Lake, painted, it appeared, from the exact spot where my daughters and I kayaked for the first time almost 10 years ago. The light was perfect, the painting drawing me into beauty and memory.

“How do you capture the essence of these places so well?” I asked the artist after his mentor, Wabash art professor Greg Huebner H’77, introduced us. Jim explained that he’d spent about a week in Indiana last summer at the invitation of gallery owner Mark Ruschman, photographing and sketching the landscape as raw material for paintings for the show. Those slides, projected on the wall of his studio, are just a launching point for the artist’s imagination. said, poking fun at his skills as a photographer. But one can’t help wondering if the sense of scale provided by those projections is a catalyst for Urbaska’s ability to create these land- and skyscapes that seem to extend far beyond their frames. (See photo album)

That expansiveness is no coincidence coming from an artist raised in the Big Sky country of Montana. But when I asked Jim what it was like to return to Indiana to paint his old Hoosier stomping grounds, he said that the long, glowing Indiana sunsets actually reminded him of that Big Sky! The mountains and woods of New England rarely offer such unobscured views.

Viewing Jim’s paintings changed the way I look at this Indiana landscape we sometimes take for granted. I was reminded of another artist, J. Ottis Adams, Wabash Class of 1876, who with T.C. Steele and William Forsyth brought an impressionist’s interpretation to Hoosier hills, farms, and streams.

Urbaska’s exhibit—“Indiana Landscapes Revisited"—runs through January 7 at the Ruschman Gallery, 948 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis, IN

Along South Shore Drive, Lake Lemon, oil on linen, by James Urbaska