Farm restoration project nurtures artistic spirit

Artists Anne Meyer and Dom Venzant knew they wanted to transform the farms they grew up on into a haven for creative expression. Rather than Venzant living out this vision in Wisconsin and Meyer doing the same in St. Joseph, they decided to anchor in Minnesota and the Meyer Farm Project was born.

“The goal is to repurpose space at my family’s farm to nurture my artistic pursuits and others’ in the community,” Meyer said. “I want it to be a place for all ages.”
The project will be completed in phases. Work includes the revamping of three areas: the ground-level of the barn, the hayloft and the Quonset, a large shed.
Venzant has wanted to restore his family’s farm in Simcoe, Wis. for about 12 years. He sees the project as a way for people to explore art. This exploration will include anything from soap-making workshops to classes on fabric-dying, woodcarving and canning fruits and vegetables.

“The purpose is to create space that allows people to pursue other interests,” Venzant said, “to learn new things and experience things that are out of touch sometimes.” While the revamped barn space will serve as an anchor for Meyer’s artwork, they will offer community education art classes and work space for artists. They might even host a barn dance or two. When Meyer was growing up, she says she didn’t see much of an arts scene in the area. To see the increased interest excites her. Venzant said having it (a space to create art) in St. Joseph is a testament to the growing arts community in the area and shows how much people have invested into staying in the community. “There’s really a vibrant but small arts community,” Venzant said.  “The identity of this community (is) small but present.”

Meyer and Venzant met about eight years ago at the St. John’s University Pottery Studio. Meyer was entering an art apprenticeship and Venzant was finishing up his studies there. It was there they discovered their shared vision.
Work to repurpose the dairy farm that sits along CR 121 started last year. Built in 1935, it still had the original cedar shingle roof. It has one plumbing line, no heat or electricity. Meyer’s great-grandfather built all the buildings on the farm in the 1930s. They include a woodworking shed for her grandfather, a red chicken coop and a storage shed her younger brother uses for bee-keeping supplies. Because the barn still had the original cedar-shingles roof, this was the first thing they worked to replace. The duo hosted a fundraiser/community dinner called, “Bouja for the Barn” to raise money to help re-roof the barn. They made bowls using clay from the farm to make the bowls and vegetables from the family garden to make the bouja. It was successful as they were able to complete the month-long project of replacing the cedar shingles with metal this June. “We want to do a lot of (the work) ourselves,” she said. “We want to take enough time to do a good job.” Venzant said they plan to make the bricks for a kiln they will add in the future. A kiln is a big oven used to heat clay when making pottery. When Meyer told her parents her plans for the barn, her father told her she would need to move back home to complete it. The 30-year-old had to think about this a little since one never really wants to move back home, she said with a big smile. It has been going great so far, especially being about to help her parents tend to their vegetable garden.

Pursuing a dream
Earlier this month, the duo with the help of Meyer’s family removed a large concrete feeding trough to make room for the ground-level space of the farm project. Her parents, Ray and Jackie Meyer, still use the barn for cold storage and rent the 69-acre farm to area farmers. As plans developed to redesign the areas of the barn, she discovered more than 3,000 bales of hay in the hayloft. True to the do-it-yourself attitude she and her five siblings were raised with, she found an Avon farmer who agreed to help her get rid of the hay manually. Once stacked to the ceiling of the 70-by-34-foot barn, much of the hay has been transported.

For Meyer, this is a dream come true. Since she could talk, she has always loved to draw and paint. She knew she would be an artist. She has an art degree from the University of Minnesota-Morris, has completed art residencies at K-12 schools and has taught at the Paramount Theatre and Visual Arts Center in St. Cloud. “I feel alive when I make art,” she said. “I like being able to invest my care and concern into a material. The piece of art comes from that investment. I’m elated I get to pursue my dream in my hometown.” Venzant, who has a biology degree, found his love of art later. He has a graduate degree in art and is an assistant professor of sculpture and ceramics at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. The 32-year-old said the project would not be possible without Meyer’s parents and grandfather Pete Giroux, someone he sees as a hero. He has learned a lot from Giroux and this project.
“(I’ve learned) if you’re passionate and people see it,” he said, “it’s magnetic.”
Next steps include installing a floor, heating, electricity and replacing windows. Within a year they hope to offer some classes on the ground-level of the barn during the warmer months. While they are eager to welcome visitors, Meyer and Venzant said they would rather it take five years and be done right than less time and be incomplete.

by TaLeiza Calloway

Breakout Box
Name: Bouja for the Barn fundraiser
When: Noon-6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3 and 4
Where: American Legion, St. Joseph

TaLeiza Calloway

TaLeiza Calloway is a professional journalist in Central Minnesota. Her byline has appeared in the St. Cloud Times and Central Minnesota Women Magazine. The Ohio native moved to Minnesota about four years ago. She joined the St. Joseph Newsleader staff as a reporter in November 2011.
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