|Theodore Clement Steele was born in Owen County, Indiana, on 11 September 1847, the son of Samuel Hamilton Steele and Harriett Newell Evans Steele.
Five years later the Steeles moved to Waveland, southwest of Crawfordsville. There Steele attended school, and graduated from Waveland Collegiate Institute in 1868. Steele began painting at an early age, and is said to have been giving instruction when he was only thirteen. In the years 1868-1870 Steele began painting for a living. Steele specialized in portrait paintings, and received some instruction in Cincinnati and Chicago.
In 1870 Steele moved to Indianapolis. In the same year Steele married Mary Elizabeth Lakin. She was born in 1850 near Rushville, the daughter of Adam Simmons Lakin and Mary Cloud Matson. After her motherís death in 1862, she had gone to school in Waveland while her father ran a sawmill in Kansas. The marriage took place near Rushville at the home of an uncle.
For two years after their marriage, the Steeles lived in Battle Creek, Michigan, while he fulfilled a number of portrait painting commissions. In 1873 they returned to Indianapolis, where Steele set up a studio. They lived in a number of places. The longest stay was in an apartment in the Bradshaw Block on Washington Street, where they became friends with the Lockridge family. Steele paintings enlisted the interest of his cousin William Richards and of Herman Lieber. With their help a plan was formulated to enable Steele to study in Munich, where many local artists had already gone, including William Merritt Chase and Frank Frank Duveneck . Shares of $100 were subscribed by Lieber, Richards, several members of the Fletcher family, and others. This raised a total of $1300, which enabled the Steele family, which by now included three children, to stay in Munich from 1880 to 1885. In return, Steele was to send back reproductions of paintings in the Munich galleries and oil paintings of his own. J. Ottis Adams and William Forsyth were among other Indiana artists who came to Munich at the same time.
During their stay in Germany, the Steeles lived first in Munich and then in the nearby village of Schleissheim. Steele studied drawing and painting at the Royal Academy under Professors Benczur and Loefftz. Steele also worked on his own at landscape painting, receiving helpful criticism from Frank Currier and other colleagues. Meanwhile Mrs. Steele took care of the house and of the children, Brandt, Margaret (Daisy), and Shirley (Ted). During the Munich stay, Daisy was very sick with scarlet fever.
In 1885 the Steele family returned to Indianapolis. They moved into the Tinker place at the northeast corner of 7th (now 16th) and Pennsylvania Streets, and in the following year built a separate studio. The Steele family lived there at "Talbott Place" until 1901, when the property was purchased for the John Herron Art Museum.
Steele gave instruction in art. In 1885 he started a school in cooperation with Sue Ketcham. From 1889 to 1895 he and William Forsyth ran an art school in the upper floors of Circle Hall. By now Theodore Clement Steele had learned that, while he might continue to paint portrait paintings in order to make a living, his primary interest was in landscapes. Steele was especially concerned with capturing the light and color of the autumn landscape. Steele arranged his work so that during most summers and autumns he could be in the country. At different times between 1886 and 1897 Steele spent time at Vernon, West Baden, Yountsville (near Crawfordsville), Blackís Mill (near Muncie,where J. Ottis Adams was running an art school), and Metamora. In 1896 Theodore Clement Steele obtained a "studio wagon" in which he and sometimes his family could travel and work in some comfort. In 1898 Steele, in cooperation with J. Ottis Adams, bought a place in Brookville which they named "The Hermitage," where each artist had a studio and each family had living quarters.
By the 1890s Steele was becoming nationally recognized. Steele was involved with an important exhibition of the Hoosier School at Huntington, Indiana, in 1895, and in the formation of the Society of Western Artists at Chicago in 1896. Especially at this period, he wrote a number of papers about current trends in art.
During all this time, Mrs. Steele was occupied with maintaining a home, for her husband when he was home, and for his family when he was working in the field. She took a helpful interest in Steele paintings, and especially in setting up The Hermitage. She was active in the Portfolio Club which was organized in 1890, and in 1893 read a paper, "Impressions", about the years in Munich. Her health, always somewhat precarious, weakened. She spent some time in a sanatorium in Spencer, Indiana, in 1895. Suffering from both rheumatoid arthritis and tuberculosis, she died in 1899.
After the Tinker place was sold in 1901, the Steele family moved to East St. Clair Street. In 1902 and 1903 Steele made visits to the West Coast. In 1905 his daughter Daisy married Gustave Neubacher; two years later Steele married Neubacherís sister Selma, then assistant superintendent of art in the Indianapolis schools. That same year the Steeles purchased two hundred acres of land in Brown County, and began to develop the house and studio called "The House of the Singing Winds". They lived there each year from spring until early December. Winters were usually spent in Indianapolis, some with a studio next door to the Circle Theater. Proximity to Bloomington brought connections with Indiana University; in the last three years of his life, Steele was made an honorary professor there, and saw students both in a studio on campus and at the place in Brown County.
Theodore Clement Steele continued the active practice of his art until his death on 24 July 1926.