University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

Oct. 1, 2004



By Molly Exner
UW-RF News Bureau

The remains of decomposing structures along remote Wisconsin byways are brought back to life in an altered photo exhibition at the UW-River Falls. "Eulogy for the Barn" by UW-Eau Claire emeriti Professor Karen Grow Horan is Oct. 19 - Nov. 4 in the Harriet Barry Gallery in the Chalmer Davee Library at UW-River Falls.

Horan will be available to discuss her work at 3:45 p.m.on Tuesday, Oct. 19. in the Barry Gallery.

Horan, who recently retired after teaching art education for 26 years at UW-Eau Claire, will exhibit a series of color photographs of farmsteads in various stages of decay. The photographs are enhanced with colored pencils, focusing on texture and pattern with an emphasis on shape--a focus that may have carried over from the 12 years she spent as a potter.

Throughout her teaching career, Horan made conscious efforts to incorporate barns within her curriculum at UW-Eau Claire. In a class for future elementary education teachers, Horan initiated a unit about the historic preservation of Wisconsin architecture. Horan asked students to bring a personal barn or farm story to class. These stories were then shared with classmates and included in a barn journal created by each student. In addition, the students learned about the unique features of barn architecture and integrated the barn as a viable topic within other elementary school curricular areas.

"Through my photography and teaching, I aspire to bring attention to the anonymous architecture of the barns that fill the Wisconsin landscape," says Horan. "All of my barns are in the process of decay and ruin. Inherent within the structures are not only family history but farming history as well."

Horan grew up in Owen, a small west-central Wisconsin farming community in Clark County. Although she lived in town, Horan spent most of her childhood on the farms of her grandparents and friends. Horan believes those informative years made an important imprint on her, both personally and professionally. Horan says this was the beginning of her life-long passion for Wisconsin barns.

Along with Horan's photographs about the unique contribution of Wisconsin barns as a historical icon and a subject of importance for the school curriculum, small selections of student journals and stories will be on display at the exhibit.
Supported by an Instructional Improvement Grant from the Professional Development Board, Horan will be on the UW-RF campus Oct. 19, 26, 28 and Nov. 4 to work with elementary education and art education majors who are developing curriculum on barns as part of rural visual culture. Horan will share her interest and passion as an artist and involve students in a model lesson they can use in their own classrooms.

Horan plans to continue looking for personal stories buried in dilapidated barns near her Bayfield cabin and may help to document remaining structures.

"I think architecture for a topic of study in the school curriculum is very important, particularly the architecture of the barn because it's a part of our visual culture," she says. "Barns tell stories that are worth saving."

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