By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Dr. Robert Kroeger is passionate about preserving history, and he’s doing it one barn at a time.
The Cincinnati artist made it his retirement goal to make oil paintings of historic barns in all 88 counties of Ohio — called The Ohio Barn Project. He painted 13 barns in Hancock County, and the paintings are being sold by silent auction to benefit the Hancock Historical Museum.
“Part of the reason I do this is, if someone comes across this painting in 50, maybe 100 years, and reads the essay, they’ll understand a little bit about what life was life a long time ago in Ohio and the sacrifices our ancestors made to create our great state,” Kroeger told an audience via Skype during the museum’s monthly Brown Bag Lecture.
His paintings are on display at the museum, where bids will be taken through Friday. Bidding will continue at the 2019 Historic Barn Tour on Saturday.
Kroeger, a retired dentist, said the project grew out of an anniversary trip he and his wife took to Licking County in 2012. Near the bed and breakfast where they stayed was a small, weathered gray barn with a sagging roof and missing boards.
“As I looked up at it, a message came down, almost like a thunderbolt right in between my eyes. And it said, ‘You’re going to do an oil painting of this barn. And you’re going to write its story, and you’re going to preserve Ohio history,'” said Kroeger.
The next morning, he and his wife drove over to the farmhouse, where an old man told them about the area. He told the couple about the Welsh moving to the area from Massachusetts, and of Union soldiers receiving Civil War land grants to start farms. That was Kroeger’s inspiration.
“The pioneers came into Ohio. The first thing they built was a log cabin where they could live. The next thing was often a barn,” he said.
Barns housed livestock, grain and crops.
“It was the money maker. And most of the time they didn’t raise livestock and grain to sell, they raised it to support the family,” he said.
Now those barns are disappearing, he said.
The majority of the Ohio barns that Kroeger paints were built after the Civil War, from the years of 1860 to 1900. He uses palette knives to paint in the thick oil impasto technique on canvas or Masonite panels.
“This thickness lends itself to lights. So if the painting is placed in an area where sunlight comes in, as the direction of sunlight changes, you get a different painting throughout the day,” he explained.
Each painting also includes a few chickens or a goose — it’s a farm, after all.
At first, Kroeger tried to search for possible subjects on his own. But he soon discovered that it was better to find barn scouts — people who are familiar with each county — to help him find barns, contact the owners about the barn’s history and spend a day with him touring the county.
Once he scouts an area, Kroeger paints eight to 12 different barns. Sometimes, if an owner consents, he’ll take scraps of wood from the barn itself and make a frame for his sketches, which he returns to the owners as a gift.
Kroeger has painted barns in more than half of Ohio’s counties. Arcadia Press will be publishing a book on his work in 2021, and an all-Ohio exhibit is also planned.
Sarah Sisser, executive director at the Hancock Historical Museum, said Kroeger approached the museum about the project last year. The museum, which hosts historic barn tours, was able to provide him with information for dozens of barns that have appeared on the tour since its inception in 2013.
“I don’t think he knew how much research we had done on our end about our wonderful barns in this county,” Sisser said.
Kroeger chose several barns to visit in person on a daytrip to the area. Hancock County farmers Dave Reese and Gary Wilson served as his tour guides, introducing him to barn owners and taking him across the county.
The Hancock County barns he painted include: Gressley-Cupples barn in Mount Cory, circa 1860s; the Glick-Pepple barn, Jenera, circa 1850s-1860s; Kemerer-Burner barn, Findlay, circa 1860s; Williams-Wysocki barn, Alvada, circa 1865; Bosse-Zuercher barn, Jenera, 1872; Houdeshell-Rettig-Bateson barn, Arlington, circa 1860s; Whisler-Dorsey-Laser barn, Mount Cory, circa 1850s and 1910s; Traucht-Walton-Saum barn, Jenera, circa 1877; Luneack-Bower-VonStein barn, Jenera, circa 1880s; Gossmen-Bower-VonStein barn, Jenera, circa 1850s-1860s; Bright-Hoy barn, Findlay, 1854; Leonard-Recker barn, Findlay, circa 1920; and the Schwab barn, Findlay, date unknown.
The paintings have been on display in the museum’s rotating gallery since February. Bids may be made at the museum through Friday, and at the barn tour on Saturday. Interested buyers unable to attend the tour may submit a proxy bidding form through 4 p.m. Friday. Forms are available at the museum, 422 W. Sandusky St., and must be completed in person or by calling 419-423-4433. A minimum bid of $100 is needed on all paintings. Bids must increase by increments of at least $25.
The museum has also created a set of 13 notecards showcasing the Hancock County barn paintings.
Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf