Barn art commemorates French painter
By HANS MADSEN
DAYTON – For motorists who have noticed the large bearded portrait recently painted onto the end of a barn a few miles east of Dayton on Iowa Highway 175 and guessed at who it might be – Abraham Lincoln is not the correct answer.
Although there is some resemblance, the correct answer is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a French painter who lived from 1864 to 1901.
The image is taken from a print of Lautrec by pop artist Peter Max.
So how does an image of a French artist end up on a barn in southeast Webster County.
It’s the work of Curt Peterson, of Des Moines, his parents, Joan and Ron Peterson, own the farm the barn is located on.
The Petersons passed on his dad’s first suggestion.
“Dad said he wanted me to paint a face on it. He said ‘Do Marilyn Monroe’,” Curt Peterson said.
“We decided not to,” Joan Peterson said.
The Peter Max image has Lautrec in a top hat with his name inside the hat. On the barn, the open door to the hayloft serves as the hat, and inspiration.
“The barn door is what really drove me to select the image I did,” Curt Peterson said.
The family purchased the land and barn in 1951, even then, Joan Peterson said, the barn was in less- than-stellar condition.
It currently leans to the east and is often referred to as “The leaning barn,” by local residents.
Curt Peterson used his skills as a graphic artist to make the project a reality. His first step was to morph the Peter Max design onto a photo of the barn. Then he imposed a grid pattern on it. Prints of the work with the grids were used as guides during the actual painting. In addition, he applied a grid pattern to the siding with blue painters tape.
“You’re not freehanding it that way,” he said.
How precise can a grid pattern be applied to a leaning barn from a ladder.
“I just eyeballed it,” he said. “The grid wasn’t perfect.”.
Joan Peterson took a job less likely to result in spilled paint or a spill from a ladder.
“I brought food for seven people,” she said. “It was easier to be a spotter.”
Peterson said it took two gallons of black paint to complete the portrait, family members and friends pitched in to do the work which took seven people almost a full eight hour day to complete.
They both readily admit that the project was more of a lark and fun way for them to spend a day together than any attempt at serious art.
They don’t expect their canvas to be permanent either, the hayloft has already partially collapsed and a set of guy wires may be all that stands between the barn standing – or falling over.
“It’s not long for this world,” Joan Peterson joked.
Deb West, who lives on the property, said that she regularly sees people stop to take photographs of the work. She takes it in stride but is thinking about making a little money off the venture.
“I’m going to start charging them $10 for a picture,” she joked.
She’s also in favor of adding some flood lights.
The day of painting and family fun is something they would both gladly do over again – on one condition.
“I would have to have the same crew,” Joan Peterson said.
There is only one thing that got left off of the work – Peterson forgot to sign it.
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