September 6, 2008
A new look for a 132-year-old barn
Gary and Sally Nelson's big, faded red barn on Airline Road has served three generations of farmers in his family, and survived a lot of history. It was built in 1876, the year Samuel Tilden was elected president according to the popular vote. (How Rutherford B. Hayes then snatched the White House from him is a story for another day, and perhaps a lesson for this year's voters.)
The barn was bought by Gary's great-grandfather back in 1915 (Woodrow Wilson was president, if you need another touchstone), and was used as a dairy barn by Gary's father until 1984.
Now, although he works as a mechanic for Racine Unified, he and Sally raise sheep -- they have 15 ewes and about twice as many lambs most years -- and the barn anchors a hobby farm, more or less, whose 112 acres are rented out.
Still, it sits by the side of the road, unaware of the goings-on that will affect its future.
Earlier this year, highway engineers came through, and stuck two stakes in the ground. One, was placed right at the south corner of the barn; the other, across the narrow road, would have bisected the barn had it been on the other side. The stakes represent the northern limit of an upcoming intersection project; at one point, there were plans for a roundabout at the nearby corner of Airline Road and Spring Street but now it will just be a traffic light. The barn has been spared although a shed will be taken down.
This morning came the second change, one the barn would no doubt smile about, if 132-year-old barns allowed themselves to show emotion. The crew from Racine County's Quilts on Barns project arrived before 8 a.m. (What is it with these artists? Can't they ever sleep in?) and installed a red, white and blue barn "quilt" on the face of the Nelsons' barn. The quilt square is in the Indian Paintbrush pattern, and was painted by staff members of the SC Johnson Office Support Network. It was sponsored by Sew 'n Save Fabric Gallery.
Some time before 8:30 a.m., quilt hanger Jim Limburg could be seen climbing a ladder with a paintbrush in his mouth, to paint the heads of the screws holding up the 8-ft. by 8-ft. quilt panels. This was a level of obsessiveness I hadn't seen in his other quilt installations, but Limburg explained, "The others weren't as close to the road."
This is the ninth barn quilted so far this summer. Go here for pictures of the Aug. 24 marathon when five received quilts in one day, and links to previous quiltings. Later this month, another five, as far west as Rochester and Wind Lake, will be done in a single day.
And on Oct. 11, the entire project will be celebrated with, among other events, a "Quilt Hang," in which it is hoped that everyone who has a quilt will hang it outside for the day -- even if no barn is involved.