Murals Today on the Barns of Yesterday
The Owen County Agricultural Heritage Trail project began in 2009 as a result of the Owen County 20/20 Vision Project. Our purpose is to document and preserve the rich agricultural history and traditions of farming in Owen County by recording oral histories of our farm families and painting murals on tobacco barns to tell the story of farming.
Through a grant from the Kentucky Oral History Commission, we interviewed 34 men and women, ranging in ages from early 40s to late 80s. Their oral histories are housed at the Kentucky Historical Society and at the Owen County Public Library. Notice the picture below of committee member, Harold Malcomb interviewing Mr. Junior Grisham. We developed the “Farm Memories in Owen County, Kentucky” booklet that contains just a sampling of information from the more than 30 hours of recordings (see picture below). This booklet can be yours for a $3.00 donation to the Owen County Agricultural Heritage Trail project.
Tobacco was a primary crop for farmers in Owen County from the early 1900s to 2000. Regardless of the size of the farm or the quality of the land, farmers could raise tobacco and make a little money. It was hard work, very labor intensive and done mostly by hand. Families worked together and neighbors helped neighbors. Money from tobacco crops is what built our communities, schools and churches. To honor this rich history, the “Tobacco Heritage Trail” will feature eight (8) murals depicting the stages in the production of tobacco. To date, three murals are complete and are titled, “Horsepower, Then & Now”; “Setting”; and “Cutting”. When the eight murals are complete, we will develop digital media using our local farmers’ voices to explain the mural being viewed. For now, we are developing a brochure showing the locations of the three completed murals and information about future murals. When the Tobacco Heritage Trail murals are complete, we will focus on painting murals depicting other farming activities such as sheep, cattle, dairy, hay, orchards, etc.
Horsepower Mural – This mural is painted on a barn owned by Red & Becky Shryock in Owenton (behind Subway and the cemetery). This mural is the first on the Tobacco Heritage Trail because it honors the importance of horses in early farming and the wonderful invention of the tractor.
Growing Plants & Pulling Plants – This is the second in the production of tobacco. It features three framed images – Burning Plant Beds, Pulling Tobacco Plants and Float Beds. Burning plant beds was done in the spring to prepare the beds to sow the tobacco seeds that would grow into plants. Pulling plants was a job dreaded by most farm workers. It required sitting on a narrow board across the plant bed to pull the plants that would be set. It was hot, back-breaking work. Plant beds were covered with canvas to protect the plants. Float beds began in the lat 1990’s. It is growing plants in a greenhouse in plastic trays that float on water. Plants are transported in the trays to the field for planting. It is considered an improvement over pulling plants.
Setting Mural – This mural is mounted on a barn owned by Johnny & Pat Craigmyle on US Highway 127 North of Owenton. This mural is number 3 in the production of tobacco and features four vignettes showing the progression of setting tobacco from “setting by the season”; “setting with a hand-held jobber”; “setting with the horse-drawn setter”; and “setting with the two-seat setter and tractor”. Mrs. Craigmyle remembers working with her father to set tobacco using the hand jobber and thus the reason for a teenage girl in the second vignette. The mural shows the reality that farmers work from sun up to sun down.
Cutting Mural – This mural is painted on a barn owned by Ronnie & Donna Dunavent and Glen & Joyce Dunavent on Highway 22 East about 4 miles from Owenton. This mural is number 5 in the production of tobacco and was painted on the original barn that is a peg barn (no nails, wooden pegs) with hand hewn logs for the base. The original barn is 25 ft. x 48 ft. Two wings were added in the 1960s. This mural shows workers carrying tobacco sticks to the field; a field of tobacco still standing; a field of tobacco that has been and is being cut and loaded on a wagon for transport to the barn. The barn owners wanted horses pulling the wagon because they remember their two horses from their childhood. Also, the horses are driven by a man wearing a straw hat because their father always wore a straw hat. Notice the mother and child picking up leaves and loading them in the red wagon. Every leaf held the promise of money when sold at market.
To Market Mural – This is the final step in the tobacco production process and is certainly the day all farm families worked toward. This mural features the Tobacco Market in the glory days of the 1950s when farmers would take their stripped tobacco to market and watch it sell. It features five framed images – Unloading, Packing, Weighing, Selling and Pay-Day. Farmers took great pride in their tobacco crops and made sure the tobacco was packed neatly on the tobacco baskets. This was the time when they would be paid for the many long hours and hard work they had done all year. This Pay-Day would ensure they could pay their creditors, pay their tithes to church and have money for Christmas. Mr. Jerry Stafford owned tobacco warehouses and he stated in his interview, “he tried to make sure farmers were taken care of because the farmers were the cream of the crop. They were great people.” Mrs. Elizabeth Prewitt recalled in her interview that when she was a child, going to to the tobacco market was a family event. Her mother would dress Elizabeth in her best dress, coat, and white high-top shoes. She said, “at the market, they would sit me on top of the basket of hand-tied tobacco and I’d sit there smiling as the graders came along.”
Thanks to generous donations from local individuals and businesses, we have been able to fund four murals. We are always happy to accept donations to continue our efforts to complete the eight murals on the Tobacco Heritage Trail. Tax-deductible donations may be made to: Owen County Historical Society-AHT and mailed to the attention of Joy Morgan, 515 Wilson Lane, Owenton, KY 40359. The Owen County Historical Society is the sponsoring 501(c)(3) entity for this project. All donors are sent information documenting their tax-deductible donation for use on their taxes. All donations are used to pay the artist, to purchase necessary supplies and to pay for installation costs. Farm owners donate the use of their barns and all committee members are volunteers. Donors are listed on a sign at the barn and on printed material unless they choose to remain anonymous.