Barns of Wisconsin
Having moved last fall, I was
struck by the number of
large barns I passed each
day during my twenty-minute drive to school. I decided to
make a digital camera record of the
barns that were within a short drive
of my new home and school. The
late fall and early winter landscape
offered images that were devoid of
vegetation and made barn structures
more visible. It was not long before
I had gathered more than two dozen
I also solicited the help of school
colleagues who owned barns. Finally,
the Wisconsin Tourist Board provided
me with a CD of Wisconsin barn
images. By then, I had gathered more
than forty images that could be used
by my seventh-grade students for a
The next step was historical research.
I wanted to have an answer when
students asked “Why are we painting pictures of barns?” Jerry Apps,
a University of
Wisconsin professor, has written a
Barns of Wisconsin,
which provided me
to spark student interest.
The barns, many built in the late
1800s or early 1900s, were designed
to be used for generations. I was surprised to learn that most Wisconsin
farmers hired professional or semiprofessional help to build their barns.
Neighborly cooperation was still
needed in raising the barn’s timbers,
providing social events as well.
The farmers built functional and
attractive barns and kept them in
good repair. Because the barn pro-
vided a means for a living, it was val-
ued above all other buildings on the
farm, including the house. Money for
repairs often went
into the barn.
The underlying value that all
farmers held was
the love of the land.
They believed that
with hard work and
careful attention, a living could be
made from the land. The great barns
of Wisconsin are visual symbols of
the farmers’ values as they stand
against the elements year after year.
selecting and painting
images they recognized
in the environment that
surrounds our community.
Beginning the Unit
We discussed the historical significance of the barn in Wisconsin on
the first day of the two-week unit. I
provided students with a packet of