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Serving: MI

Save timber-frame barns: A call to action

Michigan event aims to celebrate structures and educate people on their value.

Many of the “do-it-yourself” home makeover TV programs love to feature barnwood on walls and sliding doors, as headboards, and even on the sides of kitchen islands. People are in love with barnwood, maybe because it’s a nod to yesteryear.

I wish there was as much enthusiasm for saving our state’s historic barns that are made of old timber-frame construction — meticulously crafted and assembled in a manner lost today.

Instead, sadly, roofs begin to fail. Landowners, often generations removed from a time when barns were the central focus of the farm, can’t see the value in preserving the past or repurposing for the future. And, once the roof begins to deteriorate, time is limited.

I recently joined an effort to educate and inspire barn owners to save these valuable structures. Last year, Barn Believers was launched in Battle Creek, Mich., with the mission to help save traditional timber-frame barns.

In mid-September, a concert at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., successfully set in motion the Barn Believers Community Project Fund, held with the Battle Creek Community Foundation. Barn Believers provides grants to qualifying nonprofit groups undertaking projects to save barns.

“Through repair, reuse and/or relocation, these barns can continue their work benefiting the economy,” says Jan Corey Arnett, co-founder of the Barn Believers Community Project Fund and author of the book, “American Barns.”

Another event is in the works. The Barn Believers Community Project Fund is partnering with the Art Center of Battle Creek for “Barns: Call to Action.”

Events include multidimensional art exhibits, advice from experienced barn professionals, scale model barns, artifacts, activities for kids, hex sign painting, a photo tribute wall and barns to visit.

The event wraps up July 26 with a barn mural rededication, silent auction and performance by the award-winning Richard Lynch Band at Dreamfield Acres Barn in Marshall, Mich.

A free public reception kicks off the event from 2 to 4 p.m. June 9 at the Art Center of Battle Creek, 265 E. Emmett St. 

Linda Holderbaum, executive director of the center, says, “We are thrilled to be teaming up with Barn Believers on this project. It is a great way to give artists an opportunity to create and also become aware of what is happening in their communities.”

Art exhibit          

Artists may submit for exhibit one piece of artwork created during the past year in any media. There is no fee, nor competition. Artwork must be ready to display and can be delivered to the center through May 25. Information is on the center’s website.

For those who want to pay tribute to a barn, a quality, nonreturnable photograph accompanied by information about the barn and a $5 gift to Barn Believers also may be submitted.

The free art exhibit runs from June 9 to July 27. In addition, the Art Center’s “Art Play” events, held the third Wednesday in June and July, will have participants painting hex signs, commonly found as a decoration on eastern barns. Call the Art Center at 269-962-9511 for registration information.

The annual Kids Art Fair, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 20, also will have a barn theme with free activities.

Professional insight          

Professionals Ken Brock of Legendary Timberworks, Novi, Mich.; and Tim Wasielewski of Michigan Heartland Reclaimed Lumber, Jackson, Mich., will speak from 3 to 6 p.m. July 11 in the historic barn at Battle Creek’s Historic Adventist Village. Brock will focus on strategies for keeping barns sound, while Wasielewski will tackle the controversial topic of dismantling barns. 

Speaking at the Art Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 15 are Tom Nehil of Nehil-Sivak, consulting structural engineers, Kalamazoo, Mich.; Jim Slining, curator with Tillers International, Scotts, Mich; and Arnett.

Nehil helps people understand how to “wrap their arms” around a barn as they assess its condition. Slining shares the history of hand-forged barn hardware, while Arnett will talk about the work of the fund and the importance of saving timber-frame barns.

And there’s more: Three Battle Creek barns will be open to the public. These include the relocated Jones Barn on Peaceful Valley Road from 2 to 6 p.m. June 9; the Sullivan Dairy Barn near downtown Battle Creek, open for one tour at 3 p.m. July 15; and the Historic Adventist Village Barn will be open during regular village hours throughout the two months. Visitors should stop first at the Village Welcome Center.  

Country concert

The Richard Lynch Band of Waynesville, Ohio, helped launch the Barn Believers Fund in 2017 with a country music concert. Back by popular demand, the band will perform at 8 p.m. July 26 at Dreamfield Acres Barn, 15 Mile Road, Marshall, after the rededication of the “Heart of Heatherbrook” barn mural and a silent auction to benefit Barn Believers.

Tickets may be purchased at the Art Center, the Battle Creek Community Foundation and at in June and July.

“The world watched in horror as portions of the great Cathedral of Notre Dame were recently lost to fire,” Arnett says. “Trees of the quality from which the cathedral was constructed no longer exist. We mourn the loss. Yet, traditional timber-frame barns, architecturally like cathedrals in many ways, and also built with virgin timber, are thoughtlessly destroyed. These barns are irreplaceable and with care can live for another hundred years. Accurate information and attentive care can save them, especially as the demand for property with barns is growing. Keeping them in repair is financially wise.”

Among the early sponsors are Bill and Karen Dobbins, Albion, Mich.; The Simonds and Petersen/Hutson/Smith teams of Hilliard Lyons, a Baird Company, Battle Creek; Mooville Creamery, Nashville, Mich.; and Peaceful Valley Farm, Battle Creek.

For details related to all programs, visit or

TAGS: Farm Life
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