Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Story Behind the Barns

Clark Byers.

If you’re like me, the name means nothing, but I’m sure you’ve seen his work. He was an artist and his paintings were once displayed in nineteen states. Before he became a painter, he worked in a cotton mill and bottled buttermilk for three dollars a week.

Then he was approached in 1937 by the owner of a southern tourist attraction to create advertising for the business. By the time he retired in 1969, he had about 900 works to his credit.

What was he painting? Clark Byers was the man behind the “See Rock City” barns. He braved ornery bulls, slick roofs and avoided lightning while painting rural barns. Barn owners received a free paint job for their barns, Rock City bathmats and thermometers. If they wanted more than a trinket, they were given five dollars.

Byers painted up to six barns a day and earned about forty dollars per barn. But from that forty dollars, he had to buy paint and pay his helpers. Every two years, he’d repaint the logos.

In 1969 he retired to his farm in Georgia and kept his hand in painting by doing work for local churches and schools. He died in 2004.

About two hundred Rock City barns remain today and Rock City itself maintains about seventy of them. The end of Rock City barn advertising came in the late sixties when the “Ladybird Law,” which banned ads along main roads, took effect.

You can still buy the logo today. Cracker Barrel restaurants sell black and red birdhouses with the “See Rock City” logo on them.

I’ll bet nobody ever said Clark Byers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.