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Artwork at Baltimore County Ag Center part of statewide project

It's a wrap: Barn mural design's like a quilt

By Katie V. Jones, katievjones@aim.com

4:07 PM EDT, May 15, 2014

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It took just one weekend for the white barn at the Baltimore County Ag Center Cockeysville to get a new look.

Armed with paint, brushes of all sizes and cans of spray paint, artists Bill Dunlap and Caleb Neelon worked from sunup to sundown at the Ag Center on on Shawan Road in Cockeysville May 2 and 3 to create Baltimore County's submission in the Rural Barn Project.

Funded by the Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, the rural barn project's goal is to paint one barn in each of Maryland's 23 counties. The project started in 2010 and Baltimore County is the ninth barn to be done, according to John Shipman, director of the Art Gallery. Dunlap, of Cumberland, has painted the designs for all the barns. This is the first time he has been able to enlist the help of friend and Boston native, Neelon.

"Bill and I have been talking about something like this for a long time," Neelon said. "My background in murals goes back farther than his. He was calling and asking me a million questions. I said 'I want to paint a barn with you. That would be a lot of fun.'"

"He came all of the way from Boston," Dunlap said. "It was very kind of him."

All Neelon knew about the design was that it would have dots and a quilt-like pattern.

"I knew I was going to do dots," said Neelon, who brought 150 cans of spray paint with him to create the dots. "Barns are amazing surfaces. With the quilting idea, it's like we're painting the fabric. The barn is a quilt that doesn't have colors yet."

The quilt almost didn't get painted. After a week of torrential rain, the clouds finally parted and conditions were favorable for the two to get to work. On Friday, they were assisted by Shipman and students from Hereford High School.

"I've been looking forward to this for so long," Shipman said, as he painted the side of the barn. "I just do what they tell me to do. I don't even have to think."

Though they did not have much lead time, art students at Hereford High School were still to come on Friday, according to Joanne Bare, art teacher.

"The kids had a lot of fun," said Bare of the approximately 15 students who helped out at the barn over the weekend.

Bare said she is already planning a field trip the Ag Center in the future for her students.

"Next fall, we'll take a field trip and go paint," Bare said. "I had never known about it. It was a win/win situation for everybody."

The multi-colored, quilt-like, dotted design thrilled Richard Watson, the board president for Maryland Agricultural Resource Council.

"People are going to love it or hate it. It will cause some discussion," Watson said, as he smiled up at the barn, snapping photos. "I really, really am happy with it. I think it is just cool."

"What's interesting to me is, it is something you see from far away as well as up close," said Beth Neubauer, a volunteer with the council who also hosted the two artists for the nights they were in town.

"It catches your eye and when you get here there is even more than what your eye tells you it is," Neubauer said, of the work. It is really cool how vibrant it is."

Dunlap said the council has been great in its support of the project.

"They put new barn doors on and painted the building white," Dunlap said, of the prep work done ahead of time so he and Neelon could start. "It's been just a dream."

For the last 10 years, Dunlap has made a living as an artist, painting on canvas, not barns. His work has appeared in shows in California and New York City.

"All winter long I'm in my studio," Dunlap said. "Spring comes and I can be on a farm all day. It is very refreshing."

The best part of the project, Dunlap discovered to his surprise, has been spending time on the farms.

"There are so many rural places in Maryland," Dunlap said. "The best part of this is being on these farms. I'm hanging out on a ladder watching the cows come in."

Sherman-Williams donated paint for the project and Target and the Maryland State Arts Council are sponsors.

"It is really fabulous when you get opportunities like this. You know you're doing good stuff," said Shipman, of being approached by both Sherman-Williams and Target. "I've been in galleries over 14 years and I've never seen anything as successful as this program."

The pair hopes to paint another barn in late summer and then continue with another next spring.