2019 Barnstormers Barn Tour
The Barnstormers Barn Tour is an annual mid-June event in Maryland put on by the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation. You can see plentiful plein air painters scattered about the farms on the tour working at their easels under sun hats and parasols. It’s usually okay to stand behind and observe the work in progress if you like. At the end of the day, those creations are taken back to the host barn and sold at auction. In this way, the barn tour is a fun fundraiser for the Landmarks Foundation.
Additionally, there are old-time craft demonstrations put on by experts at some of the barns. Volunteer docents are on hand at each farm to show and tell of the construction of each barn which can be a detailed and rather interesting look back at those old skills. They can also explain how the barn was/is used by the farmer during its work life. The Landmarks Foundation staff and volunteers are always friendly and happy to be there. It’s a well-organized event and for many attendees, an interesting and full day of exploring and learning.
The barns are different every year and usually number about eight with 2019 having offered nine. At the start of the day, tour-goers gather at the main host barn and pay the $20 admission to receive a wristband and a brochure with a map of the barns in the middle. All of them lie in the same general area and there is no established route. You choose which way to go, this is a free will tour. Getting around isn’t too hard back in those rural farmlands, the map is usually well done and there are yellow signs at each intersection. Each barn is well marked at the end of their lane too. Navigation isn’t an issue at all.
Some of the barns are active working farms in daily use and you’ll be close to the cows and cornfields. Other barns are fully or partly retired and sometimes owned by people who have moved from the city to the country. The rural areas of Frederick County are very peaceful and scenic so it’s very easy to understand why they’ve come.
And that is also why I come with a camera. Most of the way through the tours are like driving through a picture postcard. Above all, just being out there is a treat for the eyes nearly every mile. The tour runs only 10 AM to 4 PM, so there usually isn’t time to meander shooting scenery as much as it calls to me. I have to stay on target and keep visiting barns within the limited amount of time allowed to be there. Another factor: Maryland is pretty stingy with asphalt in the outback. There’s almost no place to pull off safely. The road goes to the white line at the edge, then it’s grass or a ditch. You really have to watch your driving closely while gawking around!
Typically, I’ll make the full round of barns one after the other. I visit and shoot through them all, keeping in mind how the sun will move through the day. Anything that needs the afternoon light to create the best shot is earmarked for the second pass if there’s time. It’s a full day of shooting but I’ve never covered the situation as fully as I would have liked due to the time constraint. As always, there’s a lot to do for the serious shooter.
For photographers and painters, access is key to better and more interesting work. That’s one reason why I keep coming back to this event every year, to get in close to interesting things to make better images. You are welcome to walk the properties within reason and I do to find what interests me and the best angle. The owners are usually around and friendly, generally glad to talk and show off their places and you’ll meet all kinds.
Not all the places are photogenic or scenic, so I pass photographically on those. Some have been put on the barn tour because of their unique construction. One small and unusual barn this year was made of logs but covered years ago with nowadays loose and bent rusty metal siding. It was a true working barn mostly surrounded by raw barnyard mud churned by beef cattle, accompanied by all the flies and manure. Rather rough to most people, but that’s the way things are working with large livestock. Not surprisingly, there were no painters working around this one. There was a docent inside telling the story of building with logs as he had done himself, and he brought to life the depth of the know-how and effort to build that way. It was still a worthwhile stop to hear the story.
Thankfully, I’ve never had bad weather in four years of Barnstormers tour days although it can be very hot and humid that time of year. This year was near perfect with temps in the seventies and a steady breeze. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better day to enjoy a wonderful lay of scenery and a bunch of barns. The summer skies can be great in the fair weather mornings. By afternoon, the clouds can thicken into full white hippos as they typically do after the land has heated up. This year there were a few times in the afternoon I had to wait quite a while at the camera position for a slow-moving cloud to go over, but who’s complaining?
The Barnstormers barn tour is always a good experience and I highly recommend going if rural America is your thing. As a photographer, I can always gather some decent images and have fun doing it on a day in the country. If you go, be aware of a few small things. A few stops may have very limited parking and you might not be able to get in easily, if at all. Most barn stops have adequate parking but can be very crowded too, especially when the tour is done closer to Frederick, Maryland. Bring some bug spray along, this is the countryside after all.
A few additional items: if you’re a photographer, many times other tour-goers will be in the way of your shot. It’s best to bring some patience to help with your efforts. There are a scattering of porta-johns at just a few barns but you’re mostly on your own there. Bring something to eat and drink and the host barn generally has a few small food vendors too. Always respect someone’s private property and privacy and remember you’re an invited guest. If I see an owner at one of the stops, I always thank them for letting us be there and I mean it. The Barnstormers tour is a great opportunity to photograph thanks to them.
Click on any image in this post to read the individual story for the image because there is always more to tell. Will I be going again next year on this barn tour? You bet.
For more information about the organization that runs this event, here is the website of the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation.
Images and text © Andrew Dierks
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