A Window onto Aesthetics:
The Barns of Wayne County, Ohio

By Anni Elwell and Matt Mariola

Barns are the great under-appreciated fixtures of the rural Midwestern landscape. Seen daily but noticed rarely, barns stand steadfastly through the decades, weathering the cycle of seasons, the change of owners, and shifts in agricultural practices. Drive down any country road in northeast Ohio and they will flash by your window, as ubiquitous yet unnoticed as utility poles.

We take them for granted. We see fields of corn and pastures of alfalfa. We're in farming country; of course, there are barns — we need them to house cows, tractors, and bales of hay. But have you ever stopped to admire barns more closely? If you do, you will notice that they are far more than mere storage facilities. The builders of these timber-frame masterpieces more than a century ago invested great time and energy in their craft and created not just practical structures but works of art.

In the rural farm country of Wayne County, Ohio, located one hour south of Cleveland, aging barns enjoy a prominent presence in the landscape. We decided to undertake a photographic essay in the summer of 2001 to document the unique features that embellish the traditional barns of this region.

Before the idea for the project struck, we would nonchalantly pass by barns without giving them a second glance, but now we can hardly drive in the countryside without stopping at each barn for a closer look. We notice the construction materials, the geometric shapes outlined against the sky, the color combinations, and, with an increasing fascination, the distinctive window styles. Whether they are slatted or complemented by elaborate shutters or decorated with unique colors, windows reveal that barns have not only a utilitarian purpose but an aesthetic value as well. Barns fulfill practical functions, but they also play a crucial role in the beauty of a farm.

It is our hope that the recognition of this beauty will generate resources for the care and preservation of these barns well into the future — in Wayne County and beyond.

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Text and Photos by Anni Elwell and Matt Mariola.

Anni is an anthropology student at Smith College in Northampton, MA. She is a well-traveled amateur photographer and hopes to use her skills to promote cultural understanding through public education. She can be reached at anni_elwell@hotmail.com.

Matt hails from Wayne County, OH, and graduated from the College of Wooster, also majoring in anthropology. He is interested in sustainable agriculture and is planning to attend graduate school next year and focus his research on barn and farmland preservation. He can be reached at matt_mariola@hotmail.com.