Wisconsin Barns

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Born in the city and raised in the suburbs, Ernest J. Schweit had very little exposure to rural America.  His was a world of tree-lined streets, burgeoning subdivisions and big shopping centers; not a tractor or a barnyard was in sight.

That all changed during long train rides between home in Chicago and Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois, and Southern Illinois University in downstate Carbondale, where he attended college., That’s when Schweit became enamored with the rolling landscape and the old barns and farmhouses that dotted the horizon.

Photo display at Cedar Creek Pottery in Cedarburg

Photo display at Cedar Creek Pottery in Cedarburg

When he began pursuing his passion for photography, Schweit went on to focus on the rural landscape; a subject he has turned into a book, Wisconsin Barns, (Farcountry Press) and a series of images, all on view at at  Cedar Creek Pottery, located in the Settlement shops in downtown Cedarburg.

“There’ something majestic and endearing about an old wooden barn,” Schweit said. “To me they are lasting monuments to a simpler time – a way of life and a sense of values that is as endangered as the old structures themselves.”

At the rate that these structures are vanishing, future generations might have no sense of their visual and historic value, he said.

“That’s part of what drives my work. These old buildings need to be preserved, if only as digital images, so future generations can come to appreciate them and their role in our history,” he said.

Cedar Creek Pottery owner, Andee Warren, said Schweit’s images capture  the character of the barns, as well as the ambiance of the farmland and ever-changing Wisconsin weather.

“I feel like they really tell a story with their vibrancy and the flow of line and form,” she said.  “We often have customers visiting from across the country and beyond, so it is really wonderful to hear them comment about how much they feel Ernie’s photos embody Wisconsin for them.  We once had a customer from China purchase three of his framed photos to bring home with him to remind him of his trip to Wisconsin.”

WisconsinBarnsLRGCedar Creek Pottery, which opened in 1978, shows high quality, hand made pottery, photography and fine crafts by over 30 Wisconsin artists, and another 30 from around the country, as well as 6 from Canada.

“We find artists in many different ways.  We attend art shows here in Wisconsin, regionally and nationally, to find new artists, and we also get together with some of the wonderful artists whose work we already offer,” said Warren, herself a potter.

Schweit’s images on view at Cedar Creek Pottery are among the more than 200 created for the book.  A total 107 are featured in Wisconsin Barns, an 80-page softcover book authored by historian and barn preservationist Nancy Schumm Burgess.  The rest have been shown in galleries and public spaces from Essex, Massachusetts to Door County, Wisconsin, as well as restaurants and art fairs throughout the Midwest.

One image at Cedar Creek is a horizontal composition showing a barn and silo at the end of a long country driveway; the other is a red barn pictured through a snowstorm.  Both are framed in tamarack wood reclaimed from an old barn in southern  Wisconsin.  Also at the shop are a series of matted prints depicting barns from Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

“Our book was a labor of love,” Schweit said. “We spent two years traveling the backroads of Wisconsin, talking to farmers about their barns and their love of the land.  What emerges is an amazing history of Wisconsin’s rural life; the families, their connection to the land and the hard work it took to carve out a life here.”

Schweit’s barn images are available at his photoblog, Midwestern Barns, and in the “American Barns” gallery on  Ernest J. Schweit photography.

Mary Boyle is a lifelong resident of Oz, and currently resides in Port Washington with her husband and her two children, collectively known as "the bubbies."

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