September 22, 2009 — On Friday, a dairy barn at the University of Virginia's Morven Farm formally began a new life as a studio and seminar space for the McIntire Department of Art. The unveiling of the Morven "Art Barn," with artworks newly mounted on the walls, was the culmination of a summer of dusty, dirty volunteer work.
In May, the U.Va. Foundation, which manages Morven, approved the Art Department's proposal to convert Morven's smallest dairy barn, built around 1920, into an "Art Barn" – entirely with volunteer labor and at zero cost to the foundation.
This summer, art professor Dean Dass and gallery and studio technician Eric Schmidt (with occasional help from other volunteers) set to work reclaiming the barn's second floor. They brought out hammers and crowbars to remove two walls that had formed a chicken coop in the middle of the floor. The bigger task was cleaning out all the old hay and detritus in the disused space, requiring three applications – so far – of absorbent crystals to soak up all the grime (remember the chicken coop) caked on the floor, Dass said.
The barn's two original interior walls divide it roughly into thirds. One of the rooms will be used as a studio space, another will be storage space, and the largest will be a seminar room, outfitted with a 16-foot, rough-cut wooden table found in the barn and newly refinished.
Aside from cleaning out the spaces, no major changes were needed.
On Thursday, Dass stood back and watched as the art department's five Aunspaugh Fifth-Year Fellowship students hammered and screwed their installations to the walls and fine-tuned plug-in spotlights mounted to the rafters, giving a warm glow to the patina of the exposed heart pine siding that made a striking backdrop for their work.
A Thursday evening event offered a sneak peek at the new Art Barn, ahead of the barn's inaugural class on Friday, when the Aunspaugh fellows presented their projects to several art faculty and the 15 fourth-year distinguished majors in the Aunspaugh Fellowship seminar class.
Tim Rose, chief executive officer of the foundation, was on hand Thursday. "The beautiful art of these students complements the natural beauty of this place, and enlivens the property," he said.
After all the art was installed, Aunspaugh fellow Rachel Singel reflected on the new space. "I had never heard of the Morven estate before this. Just being able to come up here and see the landscape was pretty amazing. It's beautiful. Especially on days like today with the fog on the mountains, which are just a hop and a skip away."
The space has great potential for large installations, and will allow students to think on a larger scale about how to exhibit their work, she added.
On Friday, the 20 seminar students and several art faculty shared lunch and brainstormed about possible ways to use the space in the future. Conversation kept returning to the barn's first floor, a single large room with five cattle stalls, thus far untouched and in need of cleaning.