A Work in Progress

Works in Progress

Studio and the Masonic Building, downtown KewannaA large part of my life in my adopted home town of Kewanna, IN has involved the rescue and reclaiming of buildings on a path to destruction and putting them to artistic use.

Taking the Plunge

Odd Fellows Hall, Kewanna, INAfter making the initial move to the house on Toner St., which I used as a summer studio, I purchased the former Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of Main and Logan Sts. This 7,500 square foot building, built in 1889, had also housed the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War veterans’ meeting room as well as a succession of hardware, furniture, general stores and restaurants.

By the time I got the building in 1998, it was in a state of notable disrepair. Years of roof leaks and neglect had taken their toll and much of the floor was hidden under piles of fallen plaster and detritus. In spite of the squalor, those big 14 foot ceilings and north facing windows suggested a potential for studio/classroom space. The early years I spent at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA showed firsthand how an old building can take on new life and new uses with a modest amount of fixing up.

The summer and fall of 1998 were devoted to some much needed stabilization. The leaking roof had caused the back brick wall to peel away, caving in the old meat market at the rear. This first had to be cleared away. Next came one of the most crucial steps: rebuilding the fallen masonry. Then a wonderful contingent of local friends helped me fill five dump loads of rubble from the first floor. Finally, a new rubber roof and gutters completed the work for that year.


Odd Fellows Room 1998Odd Fellows Lodge, 2nd floor1998 Brick repair to building

Local artist and friend Wade Bussert set up a workspace on the first floor and brought over the original hand set type from Karen and Joe Good’s newspaper shop across the street.

Peaches and Afternoon LightIn 1999, I ordered new windows for the rear wall and had more help tearing out the lowered ceiling and paneling on the first floor. New plate glass for the first floor and some initial electric lines brightened things considerably. That summer, I completed my first painting in the upstairs studio: “Peaches and Afternoon Light.”

The year 2000 saw the welcome acquisition of plumbing –a new bathroom and utility room made working in the building a lot more comfortable. Later improvements included new sidewalks, repaired flooring in the GAR meeting room, and first floor ceilings and overhead lights. Now I was able to work long after the sun went down.

2012 saw a green revolution of sorts with the installation of 44 solar panels on the roof and an electric heat pump system on the first floor. Could this be one of the first solar powered artists’ spaces in Indiana?

Solar panels on the studio roof

Celebrating the Work

An annual show in the Main St. studio featuring the work of local and regional artists has became a Kewanna tradition. From its beginnings in the annex of the local Methodist Church and then the fire station, it has grown into a two-day event that attracts hundreds of visitors. The 16th annual show “Into the Light” presented work of 36 artists. Singer/songwriter Cyndi Fisher joined other participating artists in an impromptu jam session.

Photo by Ron Kern

Photo by Ron Kern

Photo by Ron KernWorks in Progress show jam session

An Artist’s Hangout: The Bungalow on Main Street

In 2005, I learned that the Craftsman bungalow adjacent to the Kewanna public library was being considered for demolition to expand the library. Tearing down this house seemed unthinkable, so I moved quickly to purchase it and the library ended up expanding in a different direction. The house has turned out to be a comfortable and convenient place for students and visitors to stay and can be rented on a daily or weekly basis.

BungalowLiving room in bunglaow

The Latest Project: The Masonic Hall on Logan Street

Because you can never have enough old buildings, in 2008 I bought the old Masonic Hall across the street from the studio when it came up for auction. Built in 1876, it had been covered with aluminum siding since the ‘60’s. For years, I longed to see what was hidden beneath the siding and figured the best way to find out was to buy it and have it unpeeled myself.

Masonic Hall when purchased




After an initial removal of siding and fake wood paneling, crews from Shepler Construction (Logansport, IN) began rebuilding the foundation in the fall of 2013. This year has seen a major push towards a complete restoration. Recreation of the original exterior woodwork was based on artist James S. Russell’s 1964 photograph.

 James S. Russell’s 1964 photograph of the Masonic Hall


Masonic Hall as of December 2014


Other tasks involve installing new windows where the originals had been removed and covered over, replacing damaged siding, new electric and gas lines, heating, A/ C, plumbing and insulation, all to be topped off with a new metal roof. Sarah Einselen’s Pharos-Tribune article describes the project in more detail.

The first floor will be used as gallery space, with the second floor planned as a winter studio. Stay tuned for what happens next!

If you would like to visit the studio and the growing ‘art empire’ you will find it in downtown Kewanna at the single blinking red light at 101 East Main St.

~ Diane Tesler