MILO — For 20 years, a group of Keuka Lake- area artists has celebrated the Fourth of July not with fireworks and barbecues, but with an art show.
For two days, Hannelore Wolcott-Bailey’s pole barn overlooking Keuka Lake has been transformed into a pastoral art gallery where paintings are hung on every available nail, a cascade of colorful images extending from floor to ceiling.
But Wolcott-Bailey, the matriarch among the group, figured this would be the Art Barn’s final year. The 20th anniversary resonated with her and at age 93, she decided it was time to close the curtain on this Independence Day ritual. (Although her friends say she has the energy of a 60-year-old).
The two-day show was first held in 1999 and is always around the July 4 holiday. For the last time this past July 4 and 5, visitors could drive the dirt road off of Route 54 down to the barn for a final Art Barn purchase.
The group’s makeup has changed over the years but what has remained is the camaraderie they enjoy as they discuss and sell their paintings. Wolcott-Bailey, along with Bonnie Barney of Penn Yan and Fran Bliek of Himrod, are the artists with the longest tenures. As they and others relaxed under a canopy tent on a hot July 5th afternoon, they reminisced that in the 20 years of its existence the Art Barn had been open for “40 days and 40 nights.”
The artists talked about the ease of hanging their works (and leaving them) and the opportunity to discuss their creations unhurriedly with customers and each other.
“If you’ve ever schlepped your art to art shows ... the weather changes and you have to take it down. Here we can hang at leisure,” Barney said. “It’s just been comfortable for us.”
Bliek talked of the friendships she’s forged through art.
“It’s just a wonderful group of artists,” she said. “A lot of us paint outdoors together.”
It’s no surprise turnout was heavy on July Fourth as word spread this would be the Art Barn’s last year. Many of the Keuka Lake-themed works (i.e. sailing and the Garrett Chapel) sold that day.
“All the good ones are gone,” Barney said. “They came in droves.”
“I saw one after the other of Hannelore’s pictures going fast,” added Ginny Deneke.
Barney said people were lamenting the Art Barn’s dénouement, saying “now that you’re not going to do this how will we find your art?”
Char DiGennaro joked that customers could simply ask where they lived. And Barney noted that many of the artists’ works are also available at the Yates County Arts Council gallery.
Wolcott-Bailey, a native of Berlin, studied painting in Frankfurt and in 1952 came to the States to join a sister living in Elmira; she landed a job with the Artistic Greetings card company. She later lived in Dundee with her first husband Sam Wolcott and now lives in Penn Yan with her second husband, Tom Bailey. The Art Barn was first built by Mennonites for the couple’s boats, but Wolcott-Bailey saw another purpose for the building.
“When the boats came out in the spring I said ‘Goodness, we have to do something with this,” she said.
Over the years about 15 different artists have been associated with the Art Barn — with usually five to seven showing annually. The group settled on the July 4th date to attract visitors who were in town for the fly-in breakfast. Tom Bailey said he used to track the number of customers and recalled one year when the Art Barn saw 4,500 visitors over the two-day show.
Barney recalled how they previously served wine and sometimes offered musical entertainment, including a violin performance by Wolcott-Bailey’s grandson Dylan Kennedy, who went on to graduate from the Cleveland Conservatory and Boston Conservatory of Music and founded the Keuka Lake Music Festival. The young Kennedy also sold “previously enjoyed” golf balls and his sister, Tonya, hung her art class projects in the Art Barn (she went on to graduate from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn).
Barney mentioned they had to run five extension cords together to power the fans that gave some small relief on a hot day.
“After 20 years they still haven’t air conditioned the barn. We’ve had it,” she said, joking that was the real reason the Art Barn was closing.
But really, all good things come to an end and this was the time for the Art Barn. The memories will certainly sustain the artists for years to come, even if they will no longer be hanging paintings in the sweltering heat of early July.
“It’s been very interesting,” Wolcott-Bailey said. “Even if we didn’t sell we saw so many people ... it felt like a giant cocktail party.”
Her husband, Tom Bailey, agreed.
“It’s been a good run,” he said.