As an icon of rural life, the barn has no equal. It was shelter for a young heifer to deliver her calf, the scene of twice-daily milking and home for horses that pulled the farm implements.
Every homestead had at least one barn, sometimes built even before a sturdy house was put up. As the rural economy has moved to fewer and larger farms, the role of the barn has changed, and sometimes the old buildings are left with no role at all in modern agriculture.
Which doesn’t make them obsolete.
Barns have a certain charm, a certain romance. Each one is so unique,” said Jeana Clark, a Haviland woman who is one of nearly 600 members of a “Barns” Facebook group. “If you sit long enough to look at the picture, and maybe have the opportunity to walk though, you can imagine what life was like (when it was new).”
To be sure, barns are still being built — or more commonly in this area, machine sheds framed and covered in metal that are highly functional and low maintenance, but the barns Clark appreciates and photographs are the old ones. They’re large and small, painted or not, in good repair or falling down, in use or abandoned.
She posts her pictures to a Facebook group that was started by Mike Neifert, pastor at the Pratt Friends Church.
“I got the idea of starting the group while driving down the road one day,” he said. “I got home and started it. I did it because I like the look of old barns.”
The group currently has 593 members and is an outgrowth of another photography group called Snapshot Kansas, which has 940 members.
The Barns group has only one agenda — to share photos with others.
Clark did some oil painting “back in the day” and used a camera to capture images she planned to paint. Photography has developed into more than a hobby, something that she makes a priority.
“I always have a camera with me, ready to take a shot,” she said, although noting that she was not ready when an elk wandered into her view just north of U.S. 54 heading into Pratt.
“There he was, freeze-famed, about 50 feet away for maybe 10 seconds,” she explained. By the time she grabbed the camera, he had bolted. She followed him to the Byers Blacktop, where the animal turned north. She was eventually able to get a photograph that is not common in this part of Kansas. It was printed in the Nov. 10 edition of the Tribune.
Page 2 of 2 - “I was so elated, it was so exciting to see — you see deer, you see cows, you see horses. That made my day.”
Clark is a self-taught photographer. She has taken advantage of some webinars, although she says she usually doesn’t have time to sit and watch the whole session. She has recently ventured into the commercial world with her photography, with senior and family portraits and she has done one wedding. A “coffee table” book she printed up for family was considered good enough to sell, and she has done work for calendars. The Best Western motel in Greensburg ordered 10 large prints and her pictures are also on display in the flower shop in Greensburg.
Clark’s greatest interest is in barns, old homesteads and landscape.
“People think they need to travel far and wide to find beautiful places,” she said. “They’re right here.”
Barns have quite a following.
A photo book being advertised by Barnes and Noble, “Barns” by Charles Leik, describes them as “rustic yet dignified, homey yet grand, inviting yet mysterious.”
The Kansas Barn Alliance is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to “discover, memorialize and preserve the story of rural Kansas, especially barns.”