Heritage Barns of Indiana: An Artist’s Passion by Gwen Gutwein
With support from Psi Iota Xi, Pi Chapter
Artist Gwen Gutwein began to notice the disappearance of Indiana’s historical barns and made the choice to capture the beauty of these structures in her paintings. She set a goal to paint two barns from each of the 92 counties in Indiana and has now completed more than 100 paintings.
Gutwein has a distinct process for completing this extensive project. She begins with detailed research on each county, through which she selects specific historical barns. After making contact with each barn owner, she obtains consent to begin the painting process at their location. Gutwein paints en plein air (or outdoors) for several days to capture the correct lighting, color, mood, and character of each barn. Measurements, statistics, and stories are also gathered while on site. From there, Gutwein utilizes photography to record every detail of the barn, from which she can paint in her studio. Until Gutwein feels the project is complete, none of the barn paintings will be for sale. She finds the whole project is greater than its parts.
Gwen Gutwein grew up on a farm with a barn in Northwest Indiana. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University and has studied painting in several locations throughout the United States, as well as in Greece and Italy. She has received various awards for her paintings and a number of her works can be seen in private and public collections across the country. Today Gutwein continues her oil and watercolor painting in her Fort Wayne studio where she also teaches private art classes.
“The Barn Project, with all its facets, is focusing attention on the perilous situations and demise facing most of our rapidly dwindling treasures… our barns.” -Gwen Gutwein
Historical Barns: America’s Agricultural Monuments
Barns have been prominent landmarks within the American landscape since the 17th century. Today there are well over half a million barns built before 1960 that are still standing throughout the United States. Indiana alone has an historic barn for every two square miles, and every one of these barns contains stories that reflect America’s agricultural past and the particular culture and heritage of its local surroundings.
Most barns reveal their initial specialized purpose simply through their architecture; the design of a tobacco barn is vastly different from that of a dairy barn. Other barns are defined by their shape, such as bank, crib, and round barns, and tell of local trends in architecture at the time of their creation. Some barns reflect the cultural background of their constructors; Dutch barns are quite distinct from English barns. Heritage, also, is evident from the type of materials of which each barn is composed, such as logs, stones, bricks, or adobe. One barn portrayed in this exhibition was assembled from recycled lumber of Chicago buildings deconstructed at the time of the Great Depression.
Coupled with the architecture, each barn carries unique folklore and oral history. Countless family traditions and stories have been kept alive through these barns, and many celebrations and weddings have occurred under their very roofs. One person interviewed during Gutwein’s project describes their barn as the glue that holds their family together. However, other barns have suffered terrible fires, decay, and destruction. Whatever the story is, a number of these barns are known to bring families and communities together.