Few buildings are as iconic or romanticized as the humble barn.
Designed and built by craftsmen, carpenters, farmers, even the occasional architect, many of these timber and stone country cathedrals have stood for generations as utilitarian symbols of agriculture and rural living.
Today thousands of old barns across the U.S. are collapsing from age or abandonment, or being torn down to make way for modern barns. With their loss goes a piece of America’s heritage as an agrarian society.
“The Barn Raisers,” a documentary by filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films, is an official selection of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival. The film will be showcased on Saturday at Collins Road Theatres in Marion.
This is the eighth festival for the award-winning film, says Rundle, who grew up in Waterloo and graduated from West High School. “I’m a city girl, and I didn’t really know anything about barns until we started working on the film.”
The filmmakers paint a cinematic portrait of barns through the lens of architecture, revealing the people, work and skill it took to build the structures, including architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Benton Steele and African American round barn builder Alga Shivers.
The Rundles worked with barn foundations and groups and filmed hundreds of barns in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas and Ohio. “We talked to so many old barn owners, preservationists and scholars who shared some wonderful American stories about this important icon,” Rundle explains.
Several Iowa barns are featured in the documentary, including the iconic Tyden No. 6 barn located in Dougherty; Iowa’s oldest barn found in St. Donatus; the barn on the C.G. Good Farm in Ogden where the famous Belgian Stallion Farceur is buried; the Flynn barn at Living History Farms; and architect/builder Benton Steele’s last remaining round barn in Iowa.
Rundle says the 140-foot-long Tyden No. 6 barn “took my breath away. It literally was like walking into a big ship. It was just short of holding two basketball courts end-to-end in the haymow. It was truly remarkable to think of the work and life that barn served since 1936 when it was built.”
See the Tyden barn at www.tydenfarm.com.
There is a palpable sense of loss when an old barn disappears, the Rundles discovered in a very personal way. After filming in Spring Green, Wis., Kelly wanted to capture some footage of the barn he played in at his grandfather’s farm in Soldier’s Grove, although the property is no longer in his family.
“It’s part of Kelly’s personal history, and we intended to use the barn in the film. But it had been torn down and replaced with a pole barn. Kelly was devastated. Now all he has are a few photographs and the memories,” Tammy explains.
“Barn Raisers” has been featured at three other Iowa festivals and is now available on DVD. It will air on Midwestern PBS stations, including Iowa, in the fall.
Presently, the Rundles are completing editing work on their first docu-drama, “Sons and Daughters of Thunder,” based on a script by long-time Waverly resident Earlene Hawley. The play, written in the 1970s, tells the story of anti-slavery debates at Cincinnati’s Ohio Lane Theological Seminary in 1834.