The Mystique of the Barn

I have no idea where my fascination for barns originates. To me there is something so idyllic about them. I love their silhouettes mostly. It’s like they become the canvas and sometimes the frame for the rest of the landscape – even defining the culture in which they were placed.

The first barn I photographed was a tobacco barn in Tennessee. The sun was just setting. A tiny ball of bright golden light (more like dawn than twilight) pierced through the birch woods surrounding the barn. I wondered if slaves may have picked the tobacco and hung it up to dry. I wondered about their stories and the other people who lived there. We met a Native American young man who gave me shells from the river in the woods to make some jewelry, just like his People used to collect for so many years. They reminded me of fossilized Cheerios in a one inch stack, but made a very cool necklace.

Last winter during my visit to Door County, Wisconsin, I took a photograph of a weathered barn. And though it looks grey, and perhaps not blessed with vibrant streaks of pale pink and peach in the sky, for me the barn still holds a mystique. This barn was in the back woods – I think in Liberty Grove, or maybe it was Bailey’s Harbor. A dog was yapping at me to get away from his home, where he protected his people. Farm equipment scattered throughout the yard. I wondered what the inside of a barn looks like in winter? What of the smell of hay? Are they still warm and toasty like described in Charlottes’s Web?

On the road back into Sister Bay, there is a red barn that signals we are almost home after a day of bike riding. Today’s ride was 37 miles! The barn was quite the sight of relief. The fields of corn in front added to the feeling of quaintness. But the fields were so expansive I couldn’t capture all of it. I discovered that red barns were historically painted with a combination of skimmed milk, lime and red iron oxide that hardened quickly and lasted for years. Door County has a wealth of lime created by the Niagara Escarpment. Occasionally, the homemade paint hardened too well and peeled off in sheets. So linseed oil was added to the recipe to provide the necessary soaking quality. Those farmers are certainly resourceful.

Maybe it’s the self-sufficiency or the idea of community from a barn raising that I like so much about barns. Maybe I can just like them without figuring out why and continue to take pictures of something I find fascinating – homelike and yet completely a mystery to me. Someday the light may play perfectly and I’ll understand. And maybe not.

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