‘Barns of Shenandoah County’: Artist aims to save local history with her paintings of historic barns
WOODSTOCK – After a 25-year hiatus from art, artist Sally Veach is focusing on a project dear to her heart – the “Barns of Shenandoah.
“It’s very interesting how this collection began,” Veach, said. “I was never one who wanted to paint cute, pastoral scenes because I like to be somewhat edgy with my work.”
The avid painter defines herself as an abstract, expressionist who explores color on canvas and draws inspiration from her surroundings. She defines herself as a “freak about nature” and has thousands of photos of skies and clouds on her cell phone.
Veach, 55, has dabbled in all mediums but prefers oils, which she said gives her paintings the desired texture and raw emotion she wants patrons to experience when viewing them.
The walls of her Woodstock home and studio feature many of her own pieces, and it’s clear her muse is Shenandoah County and the valley.
“I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of romance and realism, pastoral beauty and the gritty reality that surrounds us here in the valley,” she said. “I think my paintings justify how I view the world.”
Throughout her childhood, Veach’s interest in the arts continued to grow and prosper. After several years of private art classes, awards and earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in illustration from Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts, Veach met her husband and put her paintbrushes aside to be a wife, mom and caregiver. For over 25 years those brushes grew dusty and her home studio remained empty.
“I totally eclipsed my identity and in a way, lost who I was,” she said. “It wasn’t until three years ago that I decided to move everything into my home studio and began to think about painting again. Which is strange, because I’ve always had this artistic side, I just misplaced it for a time being.”
Veach began her journey with simple landscapes from photos she’d taken along Interstate 81. That’s where she began to notice the little gems nestled in the valley.
In the process of observing the landscape, Veach said she couldn’t ignore the barns any longer.
“We live amongst barns, and for some, they’ve paid attention to them and for some they haven’t,” she said. “Personally, I think a lot of people forget and just assume they’re part of the landscape. We take them for granted. We don’t realize how many there really are.”
Veach has an interest in the concept that humans are a part of nature but are also distinctly apart from it. She has a newly acquired passion for saving the slowly deteriorating barns in the Shenandoah Valley and through her “Shenandoah County Traditional Barns Project” she said she hopes to bring an awareness to the cause.
“I realized how special the barns are,” she said. “Each barn tells their own story through its weathered wood, textured stone and the character. In a way, they provide a romantic look back into time, when the richness of human struggles and perseverance dating back to our early settlers to our children who run and play throughout them today.”
She added that despite their charm, there is a sinister element looming in each and every forebay.
“Without intervention, all of the historic barns in Shenandoah County will no longer be standing,” she said. “When I started taking pictures of them and started talking to their owners, I began to learn how obsolete they are becoming. They really are doomed.”
There are over 1,000 barns in Shenandoah County. Some are deteriorating while others are swiftly being renovated to save their historic charm. Then there are the few that are beyond saving, and those are the barns Veach wants to be remembered.
“Even if the barn owner has the money to fix their barn up,” she said. “It’s not always feasible because it’s costly to fix up a barn. New or old.”
In her newest series, “Barns of Shenandoah: Returning to Nature,’ Veach addresses the tragedy of the historic and decaying barns and the devastating thought that someday they might be gone.
“Preserving a barn’s historic character is the least I can do,” she said. “Those that are not saved will at least be memorialized in my paintings.”
Her collection consists of 21 barn paintings that range in intensity of colors, from light to dark to free and loose brush strokes.
Weather and overgrowth are quite distinguishable in each canvas. Large circles create hay bales while the ‘X’ seen in each painting represents the disappearance of barns as a whole.
With her barns project, Veach said she hopes to inspire individuals to not take their barns for granted. And despite their uncertainty, Veach has hope that they will endure.
“I really do have hope,” she said. “That’s why I’m donating 20 percent of proceeds from the paintings to the Shenandoah County Historical Society’s barn project.”
In March, Veach donated $800 to the historical society that will be set in reserves for future barn endeavors.
“I started this project because I wanted to honor our heritage as a county,” she said. “Barns have played such a large role in American history, and while many historic barns no longer serve a compelling purpose in agriculture they deserve a voice of their own. I want to be that voice.”
Veach added she is looking for a historic barn to paint in this summer. All she requires are barn doors that open that will let the cool air in. She will give a painting to the owner in return.
To learn more about Veach’s collection or to contact her, visit www.sallyveach.com.