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Barns project turns into legacy

Nick and Pam Bielemeier are touring the valley in search of as many barns as they can find. The two have been working to photograph and gather details about the county’s many barns for a book project and for The History Museum of Hood River County. The barn above, pictured in spring of 2011, was owned by the late Frank Herman.

Nick and Pam Bielemeier are touring the valley in search of as many barns as they can find. The two have been working to photograph and gather details about the county’s many barns for a book project and for The History Museum of Hood River County. The barn above, pictured in spring of 2011, was owned by the late Frank Herman. Nick Bielemeier

Almost two years into their project, Nick and Pam Bielemeier continue to discover more unique pieces of history scattered throughout Hood River County.

Last year, at this time, the photographer-writer team had documented just over 100 local barns, with images and by talking to owners, recording oral histories and documenting details of their past whenever possible. Since then they have found at least 100 more around the county, many camouflaged by overgrown trees, tucked away in little valleys and canyons or hidden at the back of orchards and private driveways.

The Bielemeiers undertook the Barns of Hood River County project on somewhat of a whim. They really didn’t know how it would go or where it would lead. And although it has been more work than they imagined and is still far from done, they now know their work is not only visually spectacular but, in a place where the buildings played such a vital role in its past, is also an invaluable preservation of local history and culture.

“There is so much more to the project than just getting a quick few photos of the barns,” Pam said. “We are trying to create an atmosphere; to show more of the feeling of romance of the place where the barn sits and the surrounding vistas of the landscape. When time allows, we visit with the owners to collect the history surrounding the barns. Much of our time this summer will be spent interviewing owners, taking lots of notes, even recording or videotaping the conversations.

“If the original owner or descendent is sharing a story, it is very personal and, of course, historically interesting. Current owners will share stories they have remembered from past owners, passing them down like folklore.”

As a longtime local photographer, Nick has ventured into the digital realm for the project. Using a style called High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, Nick’s final photos are actually a combination of several digital files. The end result in an image with a range of tones and colors that is not possible in a single photo, or with the naked eye.

“We spend time looking for just the right angles and views, considering the time of day, the weather and the season in which we are photographing,” Pam said. “We spent quite a bit of time capturing the barns in winter this year. After all, the barns were built mostly for winter storage of feed and shelter for the animals.”

In addition to helping The History Museum of Hood River County create a database of images and stories on county barns, the Bielemeiers plan to turn the project into a coffee-table book with Nick’s wildly colorful images and Pam’s stories about the buildings, the farms and the people who used them over the generations.

“It has been our lifelong dream to work together on some type of scenic photo book that would include historic details and stories,” Pam said. “When The History Museum wanted to feature some of the old barns in the valley for an exhibit last year and asked Nick if he was interested in photographing them, we knew we had found our project.

“We are excited to be a part of creating the images and stories that the museum will archive for all future generations. We’re also very excited to publish a book that families will enjoy now and for years to come. They’ll be able to see and read about the buildings that were, and still are, an integral part of the development of this beautiful valley.”

How to help:

The Beilemeiers and The History Museum of Hood River County are looking for as many barns, barn owners, property owners and anyone with stories about local barns as they can to add to the database. The museum is also actively taking tax-deductible donations, earmarked specifically for the project.

For the project, contact the Bielemeiers at 541-386-2662 or nicholasgb@gorge.net; to make a donation contact the museum at 541-386-6772 or thehistorymuseum@hrecn.net.

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