"Pontzloff's Barn" 16x20" Pastel
As a plein air painter, there are some scenes that just have to be painted. When these scenes come across my path, there is usually some negotiating between conscience and safety. This scene in Door County was one of those times.
My host Ron had strongly recommended this location to paint, giving directions and commentary on the property. Now while I have encountered a few farmers in my artistic journey, I have never come upon one so completely misunderstood. My painting buddy for the day, Carol, came along with me to paint this barn. First, let me back up a bit; a few days prior a fellow artist shared with me that he stopped to paint a "perfect barn scene", but unfortunately was "kicked off by a mean and ornery farmer" so quickly that he nearly dropped his painting butter side down. Being armed with this information, Carol and I parked our cars and carefully surveyed the property. It was a beauty of a Midwestern farm. The accompanying house looked as if it was empty, and besides, it was 6:00 am and we didn't wish to wake any inhabitants. Carol set up on the property facing South and I viewed from the across the narrow road facing the property, as seen here in the photos below.
Carol's colorful subject.
My View. The light and shadows created a lot of drama.
My set-up nearly on the road, but still on the property.
About an hour into our work we heard what sounded like a screen door slamming. Then an old voice yelled out "Hey! What the heck are you doing there! Get off of my property! You people all come around here and take photos and paint pictures for a lot of money, and not a one of ya ever share with me what you make, or share a photo of my barn! You git outta here!"
You can imagine my panic as I feverishly tried to piece my pastels back into their little slots and tear down, resolving that this was a done deal. But Carol was so sweet. In a calm voice she begged for us to remain and to allow us to paint his barn. She even offered him 10 bucks and a coffee mug with one of her paintings printed on it. He said "gosh... no", and continued to ask us to leave, shaking his tired, pointed finger at us both. Yet, he began to interact more on a slower note.
He stumbled across the street toward me, and I began to search for some common ground between us. Having recently viewed the documentary "King Corn", I had a good idea about the challenges independent farmers encounter while making a living off the land.
The farmer's home and his wind-torn wind mill.
I observed his age and position in the environment. He was probably around 90 years old and perhaps served in one of our wars, so perhaps he was a veteran? I thought, "Find a compliment, somewhere".... and so I began to ask him questions about him and his barn and silo, sharing with him that my own Grandpa Bartel was a farmer in Oregon. I spoke of my Dad being raised on the family farm, how we'd spend summers as kids rolling in the fields of mint or climbing upon the bales of hay stacked dangerously high in the barn. I shared with him how our old family barn of nearly 75 years had been torn down, much like so many of our American barns are sacrificed to corporate giants. The independent farmer has it tough, right? We did have common ground, and we began to speak the same language, Farming. He then shared with me how he has lived there since 1954, when he built the silo, the implement shed, and the windmill that is now wind-torn. He was very proud. I sensed he was lonely. I asked him his name, "Earl Pontzloff" he said. Then, he spoke softly and shared that he had lost his wife 3 years ago. Here is a man who probably doesn't get much of a chance to relate with those of his own generation, and probably never leaves his property but to get groceries and pay his bills. Did he have family who looked after him? At this point he graciously allowed us permission to continue painting. My heart was touched, and so I secretly vowed to repay him in some way in hopes that he would forgive all those previous onlookers and artists, and also to allow future artists and photographers to chance to capture a piece, memorializing an American Icon.
Earl Pontzloff and his barn.
When I got back home to my studio, I uploaded a high-res image of my finished painting to Imagekind and then had it made into a decent sized gallery wrapped reproduction. I had it sent to Mr. Pontzloff followed with a hand written note of gratitude. I do hope he likes it. But more than anything, a hopeful blanket apology for all those before and after me for stopping by to make art from his structures. I hope it works!
And so, if you are ever chased off of a cool looking farm or private property, just remember that these business people do own the property, work very hard, and have every right to shoo you off. But you have to find common ground to begin a dialogue. Check in with your conscience and safety feelers. Then again, we really should have first knocked on the front door and asked permission.
My finished piece on the easel, "Pontzloff's Barn"