The Smithsonian Institute, in partnership with the Connecticut Humanities Council, offered us the chance to host their famous traveling exhibit called Barn Again!© for the summer of 2005. We jumped on it, and were able to reprise some of the best features of the 2004 "Focus on Farming" exhibit to accompany the detailed panels that made up the core of Barn Again!©. In addition to the Barn Again!
Seven Hearths was filled to the rafters with farming memorabilia, tools, photographs, books, paintings, toys, etc., lent to us by townspeople. This collection gave a distinct local air to the exhibit, which might not otherwise have attracted certain local visitors. Every single Kent Center (elementary) School student painted a picture of a barn.
These creations were on display at the school cafeteria during the school year, and then moved to Seven Hearths for the duration of Barn Again! They, too, attracted a different group of visitors (families of the students). For our youngest visitors, we had a farm coloring book, created by a local artist, on hand for children to color while their parents perused Barn Again!
For those of you who were not able to see Barn Again!© while it was with us, the great news is that it is now permanently housed in the Silo Gallery at the Hunt Hill Farm Trust in neighboring New Milford. For more information you may call the Silo at 860-355-0300, or visit their website at www.hunthillfarmtrust.org
Beginning in January, 2005, we began to ask for participation on the Barn Again! program throughout town. The response was strong. We were able to coordinate many barn related activities stretching through the season, even beyond the actual presence of the Barn Again! exhibit in town.
"Farming in Kent" art exhibit of farm and barn paintings by Susan Grisell at the Kent Memorial Library.
Sloane Stanley Museum grounds, "Farm Day, A Barn Again! Supportive Program."
The Kent Memorial Library held an invitational Barn Again! art exhibit. A local photographer had her photo cards of local barns for sale at the same time at the Library. These same photos were on display at Seven Hearths.
Kent Historical Society and Kent Chamber of Commerce Bird Barn Auction was held throughout town to both raise money for the KHS and to raise awareness of Barn Again! and barns in general. Highly popular.
The Sloane Stanley Museum, the Cornwall Agricultural Commission and the Kent Historical Society sponsored a lecture and book signing by Thomas Durant Visser, author of "Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings."
Kent Memorial Library children's department and Kent Historical Society hosted a model barn building program for small children.
Dr. Briann Greenfield presented her "Postcards From the Farm, 1900-1920" to an overflow crowd at the Annual Meeting of the Kent Historical Society.
Local builder Andy Chase demonstrated his model of post and beam barn points, at the Kent Memorial Library. The model has since been donated to the KHS for future educational use.
The Year of the Barn
We persuaded the Kent Board of Selectmen to declare 2005 "The Year of the Barn" in Kent. Armed with that document, we enlisted the aide of our State Senator Andrew Roraback to persuade Governor Rell to declare 2005 "The Year of the Barn" statewide. Copies of her proclamation were sent to each of the three Barn Again! host sites.
Perhaps the most successful publicity of all surprisingly came from the "Bird Barn" silent auction which lasted all summer in shops up and down Main Street.
The Bird Barns were bird houses or bird feeders, built by local carpenters and craftsmen to resemble barns. Some of the Bird Barns were just generic barn shapes, but many were accurate portraits of still existing Kent barns. They are pieces of art, and in many cases were bid on by the builders or the sponsoring shop keepers who couldn't bear to lose them.
Each Bird Barn was sponsored by a shop on Main Street, and maps were available showing the location of all 45 Bird Barns. Silent bids were accepted all summer, with proceeds going exclusively to benefit the restoration of Seven Hearths. The Chamber of Commerce developed an ad campaign promoting not only the Bird Barns themselves but also barn-themed displays and merchandise around town.
Kent's Main Street is a well known tourist destination, and the Bird Barns helped to draw curious visitors, who would otherwise be unaware of Barn Again!, to come to Seven Hearths to see the exhibit. The Bird Barns proved to be the perfect vehicle to use in order to draw attention to the beautiful New England barn. While not everyone who bid on a Bird Barn came to see the exhibit, they all now have an increased appreciation for barns.
When the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Successful Farming magazine launched Barn Again! in 1987, historic barns were considered doomed. Obsolete for modern farming needs and too expensive to maintain as family heirlooms, old barns appeared destined to be preserved only in photographs and memories.
Several years and hundreds of success stories later, that attitude is changing. Through demonstration projects, case studies, publications, technical assistance, and an awards program, Barn Again! has been chipping away at the widely accepted premise that new is better.
The program has shown how historic barns can be adapted for new farming uses, ranging from dairy, hog, and cattle operations to machinery or grain storage. Barn preservation techniques have proven to be cost-effective alternatives to tearing down the old barn and putting up a new building.