homepage logo

Art in the round

Bin tells the story of the Sommerfeld family

By Darcy Dougherty Maulsby - Farm News staff writer | Apr 20, 2021



LAKE CITY – It seemed like a simple plan. Diane Sommerfeld wanted to reconfigure a small, metal grain bin into a playhouse for her grandchildren. She planned to add some stairs and a loft, possibly a window or two, and call it good.

“Then I thought it might be fun to have Noel Blair do a little painting on it,” said Sommerfeld, who lives on her family’s Century Farm in Calhoun Township southeast of Lake City. “My original goal was to have a few images we could see from the house.”

Blair, who works with his family at Blair’s Artistic Touches & Design in Lake City, envisioned more potential when he looked at the bin, which is located just south of the Sommerfeld’s home.

“He suggested painting the entire bin, and we agreed,” Sommerfeld said.

In early June 2019, Sommerfeld showed Blair a few photos of things that were important to her and her husband, Tony, including her father’s airplane and evergreen trees they’d planted on the farm. Blair got to work on Thursday, August 1, 2019, by priming the bin. He planned to paint that coming weekend, until the unthinkable happened. A fire destroyed his family’s home west of Lake City on Friday, August 2, 2019.

When the Sommerfelds heard the news, they told Blair to take all the time he needed to deal with the aftermath of the fire. The grain bin could wait. Blair didn’t want to wait long, though.

“There wasn’t much I do after the fire, once we moved ahead on plans to rebuild the house,” said Blair, 38, who started painting the bin on Labor Day weekend 2019. “You just roll with it.”

The father of three continued to work at his day job and painted on the weekends. Before September was over, the bin was finished, complete with the airplane, trees, a barn, music notes and much more.

“Noel helped me see what the bin needed to tell our family’s story accurately,” Sommerfeld said. “I just love it.”

Bin preserves family heritage

Finding the right “canvas” for all this was a key to the project. When the Sommerfelds began hunting for a small bin to turn into a playhouse, they found one southwest of Lytton. The owner said the 1,100-bushel bin was free, if they wanted to haul it away.

“It’s hard to find little bins like this,” said Sommerfeld, whose husband, Tony, used a telehandler to load the bin onto a trailer and transport it to their farm on May 20, 2019. “This one was in pretty good shape and had just a little bit of rust on the bottom.”

The bin adds a big pop of color to the Sommerfeld’s farmstead, starting with its depiction of the family’s red barn, which was built in 1905 by Sommerfeld’s great-uncle Jack O’Connor. As Blair painted the barn and its colorful barn quilt, he included the Sommerfeld’s chicken flock (including Black Jack, Sally, Trim, and Pink–a brown bird named by their three-year-old-grandson, Andrew). Blair added some extra details, like the music notes above the barn and the words “Grandma’s Grain Bin.” “Noel knows us so well,” said Sommerfeld, who loves to sing.

Blair used his paintbrush to “sketch” each section of the bin before he completed each image. “I would step back and look at the big picture to make sure things looked right,” Blair said.

Next, Blair included the Sommerfeld’s two sons on the grain bin door, with Tyler on the left and Jesse on the right, both in their Southern Cal High School Mustangs football uniforms.

Then comes the logo for TS Electric, the business the Sommerfelds started in 1996. It appears below a row of evergreens representing trees that the Sommerfelds planted on their farm, where they have lived since 1984.

Near the trees, Blair painted a John Deere lawn tractor that the Sommerfeld’s two grandsons love to ride. It’s close to a weeping willow tree, which reflects the one that grows east of the Sommerfeld’s house.

“That’s our sons’ favorite tree,” Sommerfeld said. “They helped us plant it in 1990 when Tyler was 5 and Jesse was 3.”

Near the tree is a vibrant sunflower.

“Noel used to ride the bean bar for us to help spray weeds in the fields,” Sommerfeld said. “He joked that when he thinks of sunflowers, he thinks of us, so that’s his signature on the bin.”

The Super Bee lives on

To the left of the sunflower is a Super Bee logo. This honors the Sommerfeld’s distinctive blue Dodge Super Bee muscle car.

“This was one of the fastest cars in the county back in the day,” Sommerfeld said.

Bill and Jean Smith who farm near Lake City bought the 1969 Super Bee new from Boyd’s Inc., a local Dodge dealership in Lake City. As the Smith’s family grew, they needed a different vehicle. In August 1976, they sold the Super Bee for $950 to 18-year-old Tony Sommerfeld, who had graduated from Lohrville High School in May 1976. He kept the car for a little over two years before he sold it and bought a pickup truck.

He never forgot the Super Bee, however. When his birthday rolled around in 1987, his wife proposed an epic adventure.

“‘You love that old car,'” Sommerfeld told him. “‘Let’s go find it.'”

They tracked down the Super Bee near Coon Rapids. The car was in rough shape, but they were able to buy it back for $300 and had it restored.

“It has been to prom with both of our boys,” Sommerfeld said. “People always say, ‘It’s so cool you still have this car.'”

Below the Super Bee logo on the bin is the distinctive Kansas City Chiefs arrowhead.

“Tony has been a Chiefs fan since he was about 15,” said Sommerfeld, who was a Green Bay Packers fan before she married Tony on June 10, 1978. “Now I cheer for the Packers and the Chiefs.”

The southwest side of the bin reflects three things that connect the past and present. The yellow airplane represents the Piper Cub flown by Sommerfeld’s father, Don O’Connor.

“That was the first airplane my dad owned,” Sommerfeld said. “Seeing it on the bin takes me back to riding in the plane with him.”

Below the airplane strides Iowa State University’s (ISU) famous mascot, Cy.

“My dad went to ISU, and both of my boys graduated from there,” Sommerfeld. “I think about how this education has benefited our family.”

The American flag hangs above Cy.

“That flag means something important to our family,” Sommerfeld said. “My dad was very patriotic and taught us to respect the flag.”

After Blair finished painting the bin with a latex enamel exterior paint, he sealed the artwork with a professional grade, marine spar varnish.

“It’s durable,” he said. “I used this on a bin I painted on my family’s property in 2013, and there’s no fading at all.”

While the Sommerfeld’s bin was always meant to be something fun for the grandkids, now it means so much more.

“I love seeing these pieces of our life on this bin,” Sommerfeld said. “I want my children and grandchildren to know these stories.”

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page