artisan Harrison creates
art out of old barn wood
barn boards are given
new life as artistic plaques
Helen E. McKinney
SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (November 2009) Dorrel Harrison
hates to see a thing of beauty go to waste. Before old, dilapidated
barns can be destroyed, he takes the boards and creates a new object
so that others may continue to enjoy them long after the physical structure
Gallery has carried
artist Dorrel Harrisons
creations since it
opened late last year.
After spending 33 years teaching health education and
driver education in rural schools in upstate New York outside of Albany,
he retired 10 years ago and pursued a woodworking hobby. Harrison and
his wife moved to Scottsburg, Ind., to be near their son, a UPS pilot.
Harrisons hobby consisted of crafting plaques to resemble covered
bridges out of reclaimed barn wood. There was a local New England
woodworker who made similar items. I kind of imitated what he did, but
changed the product and made it my own, said Harrison, 65.
But he found there werent as many covered bridges in Indiana,
so his son suggested he craft barn plaques instead. His first barn plaque
was for Sand Creek Post and Beam in Nebraska, and since then he has
completed more than 50 barn plaques.
He also spent 15 years working as a semi-professional photographer.
These skills come in handy as he photographs each subject matter before
drawing up a template for the plaque.
Harrison cleans the old wood, searching for the grain and certain textures.
I want to keep its appearance, he said. He often adds windows
and cupolas as a finishing touch.
The result is a contrast between a puzzle and a carving,
His artwork has been carried at the Madison Artisan Gallery since it
opened 14 months ago. Its something that is fairly unique,
said gallery owner Bob Maile. It was widely popular when we opened
the gallery and still is.
The Madison Artisan Gallery is a regional gallery that carries work
different artists and artisans. Its main business is in making custom
tables, but the gallery was added to showcase some of the better
quality pieces in our area, said Maile.
Harrisons plaques sell for $89.95 at the gallery. They are
one of the better quality items in the gallery, Maile said. Ive
not seen them sold in any other place.
In fact, Harrisons work compliments the rustic old building that
houses the gallery, a former wagon and carriage factory. The building
contains the original flooring and is rough but useable with its big
beams and tin ceiling, said Maile.
Harrison said of his plaques, Every one is a little unique and
different in its own way. He makes two plaques for every commission,
giving one to the client and adding the second one to his inventory.
In 2008, Harrison was designated an official Indiana Artisan, of which
there are currently 111 members. He is also vice president of the Scott
County Arts Council.
He had a special exhibit of his Indiana barn plaque collection at the
recent Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. The exhibit was located on
the second floor of the Normandy Barn at the fairgrounds.
As with many old barns, the Normandy Barn caught the attention of Harrison.
It had been moved to the fairgrounds after numerous people donated money
to move and restore it. Harrison had a Normandy Barn plaque on display
and said he may continue with the exhibit at another location in the
He frequently completes plaques on commission. Once customers
see my work, they generally have one in mind for him to recreate,
he said. Harrison includes what is known of the barns history
with each plaque, which can be framed and placed next to the plaque
if desired, he said.
Along with Living the Country Life magazine, Harrison is
sponsoring a nation-wide Classic Barn Contest. The top two finalists
will receive their own custom-made plaque from Harrison.
The one type of barn Harrison has not replicated from reclaimed wood
that he would like to craft some day is a horse barn.
I like to give something new life, said Harrison. Turn it
into something with a different purpose. Its kind of like
the Christian life, where we can be reborn in Christ.
For more information on Dorrel Harrisons
hand-crafted plaques, contact him at (812) 889-3369. A sampling of his
Handcrafted Barn, Mill & House Plaques can be seen by visiting www.BarnMillPlaques.com.
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