It's known as The Dairy Barn, and once it was home to a herd of dairy cows. But nowadays any stray cow that happens to turn up would surely feel out of place.
The Dairy Barn of Athens, Ohio, has become a cultural arts center. In what was once a demonstration barn, artists and craftsmen and their patrons come by the thousands to enjoy activitiesranging from exhibitions of contemporary art to a national competition for jigsaw puzzle aficionados.
It's one more example of the unorthodox ways in which Americans are working to preserve historic structures by dedicating them to new uses.
When the state of Ohio announced in 1977 that it would raze the classic barn structure constructed in 1914, local residents rallied to save it. The barn once housed dairy cattle used in the Athens Mental Health Center's activity therapy program and was a classic example of barn architecture in southeastern Ohio.
Largest Exhibit Space
The community opted to turn it into a cultural arts center and beginning in 1978, the transformation began. First, the 200-by-35-foot building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and renovations were begun.
Currently, over 7,000 square feet of floor space make it the largest exhibition space in the area. Eventually, it is hoped, an amphitheater for performing arts and additional space for offices, classrooms and a shop will be part of the complex.
Since 1978, the organization that administers it has grown from an all-volunteer group totally dependent on grants, to a national art center that is 85% self-supporting through rentals and admission fees. Volunteers are still important, but the organization is also able to afford a paid staff.
Among programs that draw crowds from all over the country and abroad are "Quilt National," a biennial exhibition of contemporary art quilts, held in July, and the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships held in August.
Quilt National recently completed its fourth presentation and will be traveling to museums in the Chicago area, Los Angeles, Racine, Wis. and other cities for two years.
The show which was held for the first time in 1979 at The Dairy Barn, is credited with being the first important national exhibition of contemporary American pieced quilts, designed as artworks, not as bed coverings. The exhibitions and accompanying catalogue helped establish quilting as a contemporary art form, according to crafts authorities.
This year, as usual, there were a number of special workshops taught by quilt artists that attracted quilters, not only from this country, but also from abroad. Entries to the juried competition (whose prize is exhibition in the show) came from England, Switzerland, France, Australia, West Germany and Japan, as well as from the United States.
The quilt show attracted 5,500 people in four weeks, according to Pamela S. Parker, The Dairy Barn's executive director, who said "45% came from Ohio and 55% from out of state. Individuals from Japan, Ireland, Switzerland and Argentina visited."
In August, a different type of event takes place. That's when the fourth annual National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships, jointly sponsored by The Dairy Barn and Hallmark, begin.
About 750 people race one another and the clock to see who can put together a puzzle fastest. Winners of the semifinals compete the next day for cash awards ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Another aspect of the same event is an exhibition of prize-winning designs and of antique puzzles.
These events also bring people from many other states and some foreign countries. But other events that attract a loyal local following include a Labor Day Weekend craft and folk music festival and a national exhibition of contemporary works in wood from Sept. 20 to Oct. 20.
Information about the The Dairy Barn's programs can be obtained from the group at P.O. Box 747, Athens, OH 45701.