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  • Writer's pictureAnneliese Abbott

The Malabar Farm Barn Mural

Malabar barn mural, 2013
The current Malabar barn mural, painted by Tom Bachelder, Mark Summer, and Kathy Lowe in 2013

As I walked past the big barn at Malabar Farm with Tom in 2015, I was surprised and pleased to see a freshly painted mural on the barn door. It looked exactly like the original mural that Bromfield had commissioned when he first moved to Malabar in 1939.


But how could that be? From my research, I knew that the original mural had been painted over in the 1970s. Even worse, the barn itself had burned in the 1990s. So how was it that I could now see both the barn and the mural looking as fresh and new as they did in 1940?


When Louis Bromfield moved back to Ohio in 1939, he was nostalgic for the murals of animals that he had seen painted on barn doors in his childhood. “They were painted there on the big barn doors as a safeguard against the spells of witches,” he explained in his book Pleasant Valley. “Always they were painted artlessly by someone on the farm and some of them had a fine primitive quality of directness and simplicity of conception.”


Bromfield wasn’t worried about witches putting a curse on his livestock, but he loved the old murals and wanted one on his barn. He hired a local nickelodeon painter, Shorty Myers, to paint a mural of horses, cows, pigs, dogs, and other animals on the door of the main barn across from his Big House. “It was far from artistic—but fitting,” architect Louis Lamoreaux recalled in a 1972 interview for the Mount Vernon News.


Malabar barn mural, 1940s
Original Malabar barn door mural, painted in the 1940s by Shorty Myers

After Louis Bromfield’s death, the barn mural began to deteriorate. By the 1960s, the barn and other outbuildings were in desperate need of a new coat of paint. The struggling Louis Bromfield Malabar Farm Foundation could not afford to repaint the mural, and in a last-ditch effort to keep the wood from rotting, they covered it up with a coat of solid white paint.


When the State of Ohio took over Malabar Farm in 1972, local artist Jimmy Reynolds painted a new mural on the barn door. It was done in the same spirit as the original mural and included the same animals, though the style was slightly different.


Malabar barn mural, 1970s
1970s Malabar barn mural, painted by Jimmy Reynolds

But tragedy struck Malabar in April 1993, when the historic big barn was completely destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. A new barn was reconstructed by the Timber Framers Guild in 1994, and a new mural was painted by Sharon Repp. Instead of trying to copy the original mural, she painted a rolling landscape of striped fields and a horse-drawn hay wagon.


1994 Malabar barn mural
1994 Malabar barn mural, painted by Sharon Repp

By 2013 that mural, too, was falling into disrepair, and the big barn needed a new coat of paint again. Tom Bachelder and two other local artists—Mark Summer and Kathy Lowe—decided to paint a new mural as much like the original as possible. Using the original black-and-white photograph as a guide, Tom sketched an outline for the new mural and printed it on a transparency. The three artists went to the farm in the middle of the night, turned off all outdoor lights, and used an overhead projector to project the sketch onto the door. They traced the lines onto the white paint, then came back in the daytime to fill in the outline with colored paint.


The completed mural, which Tom showed me as he modestly told the story of how he painted it, looks more like the original than any of the intermediate murals. Bromfield would have been pleased.

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