LOGAN – For Nyla Vollmer, long-standing, historic barns are a vital part of Hocking County history — which is why paintings depicting them make for a fitting fundraiser for the Hocking County Historical and Genealogical Society.
More than 20 barn paintings are up for auction until April 30. Located at 64 N. Culver St., the historical society preserves Hocking County history—from Native American to coal mining to local veterans.
In the historical society’s possession are more than 5,000 items and six buildings. As a nonprofit 501c3, the museum operates solely off of fundraisers, donations and sales of items.
Last year artist Robert Kroeger approached the museum about painting Hocking County barns, Vollmer, a museum curator and board member, said. All of his pieces are impressively painted impasto-style, with a palette knife—rather than a brush—and oil paints.
Kroeger has made a career out of painting historic barns across Ohio; and many of his paintings are donated to nonprofits, like the Hocking County Historical Society, Vollmer explained.
Vollmer, Kroeger and a local physical therapist ventured out into the county’s countryside to find barns for Kroeger to paint. Rich in detail, texture and color, Kroeger’s paintings express remnants of the past existing in the present.
“If you look at the (paintings’) texture, when it moves, it changes colors and picks up different colors,” Vollmer said.
Last year’s barn painting auction served as the historical society’s largest fundraiser in 2021, Vollmer said; 11 barn paintings raised $2,000, which went toward the museum’s new furnace and general maintenance. This year, 24 paintings are available, depicting barns from all around Hocking County.
One of the oldest barns depicted this year was the Shaw barn, a large white barn built in 1906. “We try to get a story” on each barn, Vollmer said — usually collected by interviewing its owners.
Kroeger himself is knowledgeable about barns; he infers a barn’s age by looking at its construction, such as its roof and building supplies. He uses the age of the barns to inform his pieces, Vollmer said.
“He likes to look on the inside because he gives you an idea of what the ages are. What the timbers are — if (there are) nails or if (pegs), or how they’re put together. If they’re wooden spikes or what; what the flooring is; it all helps him age the barn,” Vollmer said. “And we like to talk to the owners because, was it for sheep? Was it for hay? What did they use the barns for—horses? So we’d like to get to a history of that.”
In addition to Kroeger’s artistic skills, his craftsmanship shows through each painting’s barnwood frames, typically constructed of wood from the barns they depict, if not Ohio barnwood.
One of the oldest barns depicted this year predates the Civil War, Vollmer said. Barns, in build and in usage, aren’t the same as they used to be, she explained. Nowadays, barns are often pole barns; and many families do not rely on agriculture as their source of income.
“Back then the people got property from the government,” Vollmer said. “I think one of the oldest barns (in Hocking County) would be the Shaw barn, the big white one that was up on state Route 180.”
Last year, one barn collapsed two weeks after Kroeger painted it. He has continued to keep it alive via paintings, though, as he photographed it for future reference. He completes paintings in as fast as two hours, Vollmer said.
In addition to Hocking County barns, there is also a painting of the Haydenville roundhouse up for auction, famous for its unique appearance and for being the last-standing structure of its kind. One barn painting is to be raffled off.
“(Barns are) a great big part of Hocking County history,” Vollmer said. “You know, people came here and they were farmers. And everybody used to have a barn.”
The historical society is open the spring/summer season and will have its first meeting April 28th at 7 pm at the museum.