Sunday, July 10, 2016

Restoring an Iconic Link to Connecticut's Agrarian Past

Anyone who has ever picked berries, bought a Christmas tree, or taken a hay ride at the Auer Farm in Bloomfield, Connecticut has passed this building, sitting off by itself in a field on State Route 185 in Bloomfield.

Auerfarm is now an impressive education facility for the youth agricultural organization known as 4-H,, But its 120 acres started out as the property of Beatrice Fox Auerbach, the heir to the Hartford-based G. Fox department store chain, which held a prominent place in the state's retail landscape for most of the 20th century.

Most of the farm  occupies a scenic hilltop, but this structure sits by itself at the bottom of the hill, away from the farm buildings on the heights.  I could tell it was constructed for a specific purpose, with its masonry walls and interesting ventilation system. I'd assumed it was a smokehouse.

Turns out it was a mushroom barn, and in fact, a historically significant structure:  it's the only known barn in the state constructed of hollow clay tiles for the specific purpose of growing mushrooms. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was used for cultivating mushrooms until 1946.  In the intervening years of disuse, its roof collapsed, compromising the entire structure.

Now the 4-H Education Center wants to save this unique barn, viewing it as a gateway to the property just beyond it at the top of the hill.  Its location could make it an ideal visitor center, farm museum, and store, former director Jack Hasegawa said in a report posted on the Auerfarm website,, The plan is to repair and repurpose it in three phases:  one, to replace the roof, stabilize the structure, and make it weather resistant; two, to clean the interior and restore the tiles; and three, to finish renovating the interior with the ultimate goal of creating the museum, visitor center, and store. 

I've been so intrigued by this building that when I heard about Meadow Life, a celebration of Connecticut's open spaces, sponsored by the Slater Museum of Norwich, Connecticut, I knew that I wanted to use that image to enter the show.

I created this image with wool roving, thread painting, hand embroidery, and an odd material called a cricula cocoon, something I got as a door prize at a meeting of the Connecticut chapter of the Studio Art Quilt Associates.

The landscape was accepted into Meadow Life, which is hanging at the Slater from June 12 through August 5.

When Meadow Life comes down, if no one has bought this piece, I'm donating it to Auer Farm as part of their fundraising project to restore the barn.  This fall, it will be offered--raffled? auctioned?  who knows--as part of its fall fundraising activities.

I'm really happy to be able to use my artwork to help restore this unique link to Connecticut's agrarian past.

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