Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why barns are red?

On Tuesday, I traveled to Zea Mays Printmaking Studio in Northampton to deliver a portfolio of linoleum prints.  I also took along my plein air painting gear.  Snow had fallen the night before and I had the great expectation of locating a few choice snowy scenes to paint along the way making the five hour round trip a productive one.

Traveling along the 202 route corridor, I entered the town of Hadley in the area known as Pioneer Valley.  Because of the rich sandy loam glacial deposits along the Connecticut River, there are many, many arce farms.  Numerous farms have polish names broadcast across their farmstand billboards; Matuszjko, Smiarowski, Dzen.  In the late 1800's many Polish farmers were recuited from Ellis Island to farm this area.  Polish farmers are credited with saving Hadley's farmland.  The area was once known as the Asparagus Capital of the World, or as the locals called it, Hadley's Grass, until a soil borne fungus killed most of the crop in the 1950's.  Today at Twin Oaks Farm, they are developing and growing a new cash crop of cabbages, not the bowling ball size but smaller head cabbages, all under a pound for today's foodies.

Ever wonder why barns are painted the ubiquitous color of red?  I suppose people have also questioned why grass is green.  As an artist, I like the the combination of those two colors, red and green.  They are complementary colors in the art world and are found opposite each other on the color wheel.  Used together, they set up good vibrations. the question why barns are red and grass is green, I answered with a charming oil painting sketch of one of Hadley's red barns, green grass under murky grey skies; painted in two hours before the cold rains fell.

Another answer to why barns are red is in the late 1700's, farmers began painting their barns with a combination of linseed oil (made from flax seed) and ferrous oxides (old fashion rust) changing the look of weathered grey timbers into red stain.  This artificial preservative prevented mold and mildew from forming and destroying the barn's wood.  Wealthy farmers added the blood of slaughtered animals to the linseed combo.  Much later, red oxides were the cheapest paints found hardware store shelves.

Aesthetically speaking though, red barns in combination with those fertile green fields contrasted beautifully with the farmer's white washed farmhouse ... and many paintings and artwork have paid homage to this color combo and to the people who farm and grow our food.

No comments:

Post a Comment