An Age of Barns, by Eric Sloane
The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America,
by Eric Arthur and Dudley Witney
One of the things I love about the Book of the Month posts is the opportunity to highlight some of our more interesting, yet unassuming books that might get lost in the sheer number of titles we have to offer.
This month, I was thinking of all the things I love about fall, but wanted to choose a subject that might not often get a lot of attention. Certainly we haven’t had many recent features from the Art & Architecture genre, and as I scanned through the section, the two featured titles struck my interest. For what is more humble than a barn? And yet, at different times and places it can possess artistic, functional, historical, and even nostalgic, value. And what is one likely to see many of whilst meandering around the countryside, leaf-peeping and buying cider? The barn, whether working or caving in, still makes a regular appearance here in the rural areas of New England.
Eric Sloane’s An Age of Barns features numerous sketches and paintings of Early American barns, and details not only their architectural features, but also their significance in early Americana. From New England to Pennsylvania, on to Appalachia and out to the West, he educates us on the vast styles and functions of a humble, yet surprisingly diverse, structure.
“We have finally come to realize the beauty and excellence of homes built by the early Americans , but too often their barns are regarded as mere curiosities. They are, rather, the shrines of a good life that ought to be remembered.”
Arthur and Witney also recognize the barn’s importance and rapidly disappearing presence. The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America is more photo-journalistic in its approach, comprised of 134 color and 278 black and white photographs (plus notes) that record examples of this historically significant structure for future generations.
“North American barns of the last two hundred years are landmarks of beauty and culture- the simple and practical expression of a people, a way of life, and the land from which they sprang.”
With help from this month’s feature, as we are out enjoying the crisp autumn air and colorful landscapes, perhaps we can better appreciate these rustic structures that dot the landscape for more than their bucolic value. Indeed, it is eye opening to understand the barn as an “expression” rather than just a functional structure. Simple in form, but multifaceted in value, they reflect the qualities of those who built them and unconsciously left behind a story for future generations.
Many of us know someone who professes not to like reading, when they are in fact, limiting the concept to interpreting written text. Perhaps those people would prefer the type of story-telling offered in this month’s selections, where words take second stage to the explorations offered in rich imagery.
PS- If you do happen to be wandering in the Pioneer Valley, I hear there are some pretty good bookstores ’round these parts 😉 Indeed, Southampton boasts a few barns, and a particular working one down the road from us offers pumpkins and hayrides, so stop by and visit!