to display work at State Fair
plaques capture historic
area barns, houses and mills
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(July 2010) When Dorrel Harrison lived in
upstate New York, his art was inspired by the covered bridges that dotted
the landscape. After moving to Scottsburg in 2003, he began hunting
bridges similar to those he had built miniature replicas of while living
in New England. However, his new home was to yield new structures that
caught his woodworkers eye.
Dorrell Harrison crafts
Indiana barns out of pieces of wood
reclaimed and restored from
the same buildings.
Soon, Harrison, 66, found himself crafting Indiana barns
out of pieces of wood reclaimed and restored from those very buildings.
Over the past few years, the Indiana Artisan estimates that he has crafted
close to 100 plaques celebrating historic area barns, houses and mills.
For each piece, Harrison interviews people associated with the building
to capture special memories associated with the history
of the barn or house. He then writes a story that is placed on the back
of each plaque, resulting in a piece of art that not only captures the
visual image of the structure but also preserves the history. Harrison
notes that this is a way to keep the heritage alive.
Its kind of like the covered bridges, he explains.
The wooden barns are becoming a thing of the past.
During the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 6-22, Harrison will show his barn
plaques in the famed Normandy Barn on the Indianapolis fairgrounds.
In 2009 Harrison presented a limited display of his work and was invited
to expand his exhibit for 2010. This years exhibit will include
several of his popular plaques showcasing memorable Indiana barns.
Debuting will be a new line of Harrisons work that will now be
available in a larger size. In honor of this years display, a
DVD explaining the process by which the plaques are created will be
Bob Saueressig, artist in residence at the Madison Artisans Gallery,
cites nostalgia as part of the appeal of Harrisons
work. He explains that every piece represents a real structure. Each
barn is an actual barn, and the wood used in the plaques typically
incorporates pieces from the barn being portrayed, he said. However,
many customers see in the art a representation of an ideal barn from
their own past.
Saueressig cites comments such as, Thats kind of like
my grandfathers barn! and That looks like
the barn where I used to play for hours! as proof of the
personal resonance the viewers have with the plaques.
The process of creating a barn plaque begins by photographing the structure.
The image is downloaded to a computer where it is sized to fit the final
plaque. The artists next step is to cut the image up like
a puzzle. Using a Dremel tool, the pieces of the barn are carved
out of barn wood specially selected for having grain that would
replicate the structure. When painting is complete, the finished
piece is mounted on a piece of reclaimed barn wood.
The resulting work of art may then be hung on the wall or displayed
on a shelf. We take a lot of care to accent the detail of the
barn, mill, or house, Harrison says. He credits his wife of 45
years, Kathleen, as the quality control expert who carefully
examines every plaque for any error that may have slipped in during
the crafting process.
Many of Harrisons plaques are made as commissions for customers
looking to capture the memory of a barn or house. Harrison explains
that he typically makes two plaques for each commission and gives his
clients the option of selecting the one that they like best. The other
plaque is retained by the artist and takes its place in his showroom,
which is available for viewing by appointment.
Harrison has a program in which he loans out works from his showroom
to area businesses, allowing them the opportunity to display his unique
art. Presently, such exhibits are taking place at Bears Furniture
Gallery in Madison and the Coffee House on the Square in Scottsburg.
When people come in, its a nice conversation piece,
he says, noting that the plaques make good ice breakers.
Last year, Harrison teamed with Living the Country Life
magazine to present a Classic Barn contest. The competition drew photographs
from across the nation, and the winner will be presented with a barn
plaque honoring the first-place barn. Harrison reflects that it
takes money to keep a barn up its hard to do that.
Harrison hopes his art will inspire barn owners to work to preserve
what structures they can so that future generations can enjoy not only
the plaques on the walls but also the barns in the fields.
For more information on Dorrel Harrison,
or stop by The Artisans Gallery at 325 E. Main St., Madison, Ind., to
view his work.
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