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21Country: Heritage Barns of Indiana

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - It'd be challenging to find someone who loves barns as much as artist Gwen Gutwein.

"They are so beautiful," she told us, "the history of the barn, and the family tied to that barn and the farm was just really important to me."

In 2004, she started painting barns in 21Country to refine her painting technique.

She enjoyed it so much, she started painting more barns across the state, until she had at least two in Indiana's 92 counties.

"Barns in different parts of the area, and barns used for different things are different," she said, "and I wanted to capture that."

She had the idea of compiling her artwork into a book that celebrated Indiana's farming history.

At most, she thought it would take her six years, but she didn't finish until 12 years later in 2016.

It would take her another four years to find the right publisher for her vision.

"I'm unrealistically optimistic," Gutwein joked, "it was always different every 'adventure' out - and they were adventures. I met amazing people, had really unusual experiences and saw the most gorgeous barns."

She didn't know most of the barn owners, until she asked to paint the centerpiece of their properties.

"The fact that somebody would come there and feel the same way aobut their barn as I do? They loved it!" she said.

Gutwein's affinity for barns stems from her childhood.

The barn she grew up loving, would later be destroyed in a fire.

At least a decade after painting one of Allen County's barns, she returned with ABC21 as we spoke to it's owner Ray Mendenhall.

"This barn was built in the 1860's, and it was built by my ancestors," he told us, "my children are the 7th generation of my family to have the opportunity to live here."

While Gutwein painted most pieces on location, she recalled an image of a Amish family passing on a horse and buggy.

A little girl looked back at her.

She took a photo and added it to the painting.

Mendenhall says his family has prioritized preserving the barn every generation, despite how expensive it can be.

"You see that a lot of these barns are disappearing and its really a labor of love to keep it going," he said.

In Noble County, the Rosswurm Family Barn is a landmark.

"It was the summer of 2007 when I came up to do the painting of this barn," Gutwein told us, "there's a lot of fascinating history."

The Rosswurm family acquired the property in 1968.

"Before all our power tools and electricity conveniences - I can't imagine building something like that just with hand tools," Cheryl (Rosswurm) Gierscher told us.

They hope to care for it long enough to receive the Hoosier Homestead Award, a statewide program that recognizes families with farms owned for 100 years or more.

They too saw Gutwein this week, after she painted their family barn in 2007.

There's since been improvements to it, including new lettering and lighting so it can be enjoyed at night.

"I think she picked the perfect subject matter," Gierscher's husband Mike said, "If you look at what barns represent for our state and everything else? I mean what an honor that it was painted and captured that way for everyone else to enjoy for years to come."

This fall, Gutwein's book, "Heritage Barns of Indiana" became available to the public.

You can find more information about her and her work on her website here.

The artist hopes that by highlighting historic barns, it will encourage some owners to invest in renovating what they've had for decades, instead of building a new one.

Author Profile Photo

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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