“Building The Dutch Barn” Film

The Barn Journal had an opportunity to sit down with film maker and photographer, Brandt Bolding, on his short film, Building The Dutch Barn. Thanks to the support of the Ambesby-Mawby Foundation, this film was made possible.

Brandt Bolding’s photographs have been in exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the Northeast, and have appeared in newspapers, journals, and publications by various preservation organizations in New York State. His work on agricultural life will be the subject of a solo exhibition at The Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, NY, later in 2011. Two of his photographs appeared in the book entitled “Old Homes of New England: Historic Houses in Clapboard, Shingle, and Stone” published by Rizzoli in April of 2010.

He was born in Texas in 1960, lived in a number of Southern states, and in 1994 moved to New York City from Nashville, TN where he was a musician and educator. He became interested in historic preservation in the course of his architectural and interior design work, photographing and recording historical architectural details. This interest evolved into preservation and photographic documentation of the historic agricultural structures and farms in his home state of New York, specifically the Hudson, Mohawk, and Schoharie River valleys. He has traveled extensively in Massachussetts, Vermont, and Maine, photographing the farms, barns, and agricultural communities there as well.

Barn Journal: Can you share with me what was your motivation behind making this film and your photography?
Brandt Bolding: The Film. The initial brief was simply to provide a visual introduction to the model raising process for teachers whose classes would be involved in raising the barn model. The funding provided was only covering the essential pre-production work, scouting, writing, and a day of shooting a class raising the model. As I considered this more fully – it seemed that a teacher looking simply at a “class raising the model” might not necessarily be emotionally or intellectually engaged or drawn into these activities, perhaps after seeing it, some might not even want to do it all.

I can tell you I wasn’t interested in creating something that was just “status quo”…that’s not really who I am or what I do artistically speaking. End the end, it seemed that it might be a perfect opportunity to tell a great visual story…including an introduction to barn timberframing, Dutch barns, the culture that built the Dutch barn, the barn’s unique structure…and then the “class raising the model”. Fortunately I have hundreds and hundreds of hours of video footage of timberframing, barn raising, barns – that I would be able to use in telling that story. Reviewing this footage took an extraordinary amount of time, editing together sequences…some of it I had forgotten about quite frankly…but it was wonderful how it made the film come to life for me.

Also, it occurred to me while working on the film that there have only been two significant pieces of media (in this case books) produced on Dutch barns in the last 43 years. “The New World Dutch Barn: The Evolution, Forms, and Structure of a Disappearing Icon” by John Fitchen in 1968, and later “Dutch Barns of New York”, by Dutch Barn founding member Vincent Schaefer in 1994. This was an chance to produce a new media outreach tool (though modest in scope), that could possibly reach a broader audience than those reading the more in-depth research miscellany produced by ours and other barn preservation societies.

Last, I find that sadly in many quarters of the preservation world, not enough importance is placed on producing high quality image media…whether that be photographs, videos, films..as a part of their structural outreach program. Often time it is an afterthought…or sometimes there is…no thought. The bottom line is that images, such as those in the book “Barns” for which Charles Leik wrote the introduction, or “Dutch Colonial Architecture” by Roderick Blackburn and Geoffrey Gross, can captivate a viewer in a way that nothing else can simply put. As well, there are many people that can’t go charging around the countryside looking at barns like many of us…images bring them there…images can do the heavy lift…

Personally, I started down this road of documenting rural life because of the Fitchen book, but most importantly it was because of the extraordinary photographs of Dutch barns by the great New York photographer Geoffrey Gross. I think many people would be drawn to preservation efforts all across the country if they could only for once see, and be captured by a wonderful visual story. There are great parallels and inferences to be drawn from Teddy Roosevelt’s journeys in the West with John Muir prior to his great conservation/preservation efforts. Once Teddy Roosevelt saw the the breathtaking beauty and the extraordinary value, – he was a changed man. My feeling along these lines is that you cannot preserve what you do not love…and you cannot love… what you do not see.

BJ: Why were you drawn to the topic?
BB: I’m a Trustee of The Dutch Barn Preservation Society…the project was discussed during a meeting…and it was something that very much interested me. I had started shooting motion images in 2007…during several trips along the Hudson and Mowhawk valleys retracing the paths that the author/architect John Fitchen had taken as he researched Dutch barns for his 1968 book “New World Dutch Barn…”. In other words it seemed like a perfect fit.

BJ: What do you hope people will come away from after watching this film?
BB: How simple (technologically speaking) but how extraordinarily effective (and beautiful) timberframing as a building process is. That there was a pre-colonial culture i.e. the Dutch and others from N. Europe living, working, and even thriving for some… in North America. For many of us growing up in America… we think of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, the English as our earliest history. This Northern European culture brought with them a style of “three-aisled” agricultural building that is fundamentally unique…and dates back to Anglo-Saxon cultures many many centuries ago. Lastly, the greatest hope is that would inspire the viewer to want to see these buildings, to know more about the culture that produced them…and in the end…to be a part of the preservation community.