By Taylor Barnhill
Take a breath; then imagine being immersed in one of our luxuriant spring days, comfortably seated in your outdoor chair, overlooking a classic Appalachian mountain valley. In the foreground stands an icon of mountain culture: a weathered barn of ancient logs and tortured boards, abandoned except for the swooping of barn swallows and a resident groundhog. For the plein air artist, this might be a studio, one of the outdoor settings in which many of our mountain artists create.
This spring, 18 artists are exploring mountain ridges and valleys, expressing their vision of the venerable mountain barn, laying it upon canvas on the easel at hand. These remarkable people have come to call themselves The Saints of Paint, as they donate half of their sales to not-for-profit groups dedicated to preserving the mountain environment, caring for animals and working for positive social change.
On this year’s June solstice weekend, A Pastoral Palette: The Barn Whispers its Memories, an exclusive gallery show and sale with art by The Saints of Paint will benefit the Appalachian Barn Alliance (ABA). The Madison County-based ABA is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Appalachian barn traditions by documenting hundreds, among thousands, of barns through photography, detailed architectural drawings and oral histories from family and neighbors. The show follows on the heels of Madison County’s Barn Month, held every year in May, when the ABA hosts events and barn tours to celebrate the rich heritage of Appalachian barns and the stories that surround them. The 6th annual Barn Tour Day & Party will be held Saturday, May 18, from 1:30–7 p.m.
A Pastoral Palette invites the public to meet The Saints of Paint, purchase their art and learn about the work of the ABA. The event will be held at the Lenoir- Rhyne Conference Center Friday, June 21, through Sunday, June 23. A Friday evening Gala from 5–8 p.m. will include a bounty of food and drink provided by Fig Bistro, Stackhouse Restaurant, Homegrown Café, Green Sage Café, Sweet Monkey Bakery and Café, and Chupacabra Latin Café. The paintings will continue to be shown on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a Meet the Artists event from 12–3 p.m. on Saturday.
“I lived in Big Pine for several years and came to admire many beautiful barns in the area, including the amazing Wild family barn, just down the road from where I lived,” says artist Christine Enochs. “It’s hard not to wonder about the long history and stories of many of the barns, and not to be awed by their beauty and endurance. I am delighted to be painting some of them for the show and helping focus efforts on their preservation. There are so many stunning barns; showing how beautiful they are in their settings is very apt for me as a landscape painter.”
Susan Kokora is another Saints of Paint artist who has been captivated by the county’s historic barns. “My painting friends and I went on a barn tour through parts of Madison County that I’d never seen before, took an exciting ride over Troublesome Gap, cresting the mountain to turn downward into scenic Spring Creek valley, photographing and admiring many beautiful, iconic structures,” she says.
“I’ve revisited my favorite barn several times. Early barns were made of materials taken directly from the earth, such as stone and logs. I love that the barns seem to express the relationship between the land and the people that live there. They are symbols of the pride and investment that farming and living off the land require.”