For me, Kewanna is a special place. It is the home of the late artist James Spencer Russell, and the home of several good friends including artists Diane Tesler and Wade Bussert. As of the 2010 census, it’s population was 613 residents. The town was named after a Potawatomi chief.
As with many small towns across the country and Indiana, Kewanna has seen better days. In the not so recent past, it had a grocery store and a car dealership. Currently, the largest company doing business in town is Winimac Coil Spring. Kewanna Metal Specialties is another manufacturing company located in Kewanna.
There is a post office, bank, laundry, barber shop, hardware store and an excellent library. The Kibitzer Tavern and the Plant 5 Cafe, owned by Winimac Coil Spring are the two local dining establishments. A new gas station/convenience store has just opened. The last weekend every September, Kewanna has its annual Fall Festival.
Artist Diane Tesler has been coming to Kewanna for nearly 30 years. Based in Virginia, she showed up in Kewanna by coincidence one year during a painting road trip, and fell in love with the area. There was subject matter everywhere she looked and she felt that life in Kewanna was just what she was looking for. Over a period of years, she spent more time in Kewanna. In 1991 Diane bought a house for herself, and in 1998 she purchased and restored the Odd Fellows Hall, establishing her art space, known as Works in Progress. Even though Diane essentially summered in Kewanna, all of her painting subjects were found in the region. In 2012, she moved her permanent residence to Kewanna. Diane continues to revitalize Kewanna through the restoration of structures and the promotion of art. Recently, she resurrected the Masonic Lodge as her second location of Works in Progress. And, she purchased a church that went up for auction, and is converting it to a performance space.
Wade Bussert is a life-long resident of Kewanna. In the past, he owned the town’s grocery store. He was good friends with James Spencer Russell and was responsible for preserving Jim’s personal and art legacy by saving much of Russell’s personal archive at the time of his death. Wade is an excellent artist, is the region’s historian and has maintained his residence at Sparrow Cottage for decades. Every year, at the end of October, Diane and Wade team up for an annual arts festival featuring regional artists. This is one of the area’s most popular events.
Kewanna has been a subject for my camera ever since I first visited. There is a push and pull going on that exemplifies a small town struggling to stay afloat in the “new world” where economic conditions are difficult and trying. If I was still doing projects, I believe that Kewanna would be on the top of my list to examine with my camera, and to tell its story.
(Click on the photographs to enlarge. This page will be updated.)