By Anna Horsnell
Jon Wayne’s Big Red Barn stands prominently on a slope at the foot of the North Mountain, just north of Berwick in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, and minutes from the Bay of Fundy. Unlike the days when it sheltered pigs, hay, and farm equipment, this fall the barn has resonated with music and laughter from a group of seniors having the time of their lives. Each of them is a professional artisan busily creating on-site and showcasing their artwork in a gorgeous country setting most would envy.
Owner Wayne Dombroski and his partner, singer and songwriter Jon Hemingway, (hence the name “Jon Wayne”), first reinvented the barn as a unique sales location for antique furniture and household items they had inherited. After two successful summers, Dombroski unfortunately suffered a serious stroke and the barn closed its doors until this summer. That’s when friend Debbie Greenwood stopped in for a visit.
Greenwood explains, “In August when I checked in on them, they were privately dealing with Wayne’s health crisis, and because of Covid-19, were isolated from their friends and community. I wanted to help, so I offered to open the Big Red Barn. In the meantime, I had met another artist, Susan Spicer, also in need of a venue. The Barn would be perfect! From the moment Jon opened that barn door and entrusted us with their collection of consignment items and the Barn itself … I can say, my personal path changed.”
Following several busy weeks of dusting, rearranging, and reconfiguring the space inside, the Big Red Barn prepared to reopen, but the activity had already drawn curiosity. Artist friends, also searching for venues in this time of COVID-19, stopped by. Shoppers missing the usual craft markets pulled into the driveway. Within days The Big Red Barn was carefully coming alive and the momentum took on a life of its own.
The real heart and magic of this story lies behind the scenes. Each person involved is of an age where life has presented tough challenges, and it just happened that this year has been especially rough, even before a global pandemic. Call it serendipity, but in this year of turmoil and stress, these artists not only found each other, but they found a common passion and the desire to make it happen in spite of everything. There was no master plan. They simply followed their hearts and, in the process, they healed.
Greenwood shares that sentiment. “Stories of grief, loneliness, and abuse became compassion, companionship, protection. Deb, Susan, Shannon, Susie, Cathy … each of us have different personal life experiences, and yet, we all had the same sense that this old barn was a shelter for us collectively, creatively, uniquely. And in amongst us are our two gentle men, Jon and Wayne. Because of The Big Red Barn, we’ve become a family in this strange time of human crisis.”
Spicer nods in agreement. “This year there’s been so much to dread, and the barn has given me something to be grateful for, something positive. The Barn is inspiration and friendship. Jon and Wayne and the other women have been just the medicine I needed. We’re all very different, but there is a common thread of just wanting to do what we love and being successful at it. That pulls us together and gives us all confidence. We help each other, and Jon and Wayne have been so supportive and encouraging. We all need that. I’m just so thankful I made the right choice to do this. It’s exhilarating. It’s fun. It’s possible. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
Shannon Graves adds, “The venue itself feels so right for all of us. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I have a good feeling when I’m there, almost like I’m home and I think the others feel it too. As for our relationship, we have very quickly fallen into a comfortable camaraderie which I think will play a big part in our success here. Being a part of this group of people gives me a rejuvenated sense of wellbeing, which in turn has a positive effect on my creativity.”
Susan Corbin feels the same. “Since I’ve just moved to the Valley, and coming from quite a competitive market in Halifax, I really appreciated the warm welcome. For me right now the barn has been a great place to meet the local creative community.”
Cathy Williams sums it up. “It’s not about “the me and my art,” but what we can do together to make the Barn just as great an experience for our customers as it is for us. Being a member of this group has encouraged me to be more confident in the art that I produce. The colours and the energy that everyone possesses are infectious, and the positivity is refreshing with everything that has gone on this year. I feel very fortunate to have met these wonderful people. The Big Red Barn has a great vibe. We want to keep evolving, to bring it to the next level. Whatever that might be, we’ll have fun getting there!”
The two men behind the name have every right to be proud. Hemingway has not only provided the actual soundtrack to this adventure, but he’s proven to be a handyman extraordinaire, quick to do whatever the Barn needs to work better. Dombroski has been a huge support, encouraging and considering possibilities, and looking forward. Next year, “we have thoughts to add a coffee/tea bar with homemade goodies, background entertainment, and special events for holidays and weekends.”
Stepping into The Big Red Barn, most people immediately smile. This place is an unexpected gem of unique and varied fine art, crafts, and more. The rustic setting is warm and welcoming. There is a feeling of hope and passion and joy. There are artists at work, and very often, Hemingway on keyboard. The power of positivity is contagious. Just what we all need.
Currently The Big Red Barn is open Friday to Sunday, but will close for the coldest winter months. To also check on Covid-19 closure updates, visit Jon Wayne’s Big Red Barn on Facebook, as well as jonhemingway.com.
Group photo: (back row, left to right) Cathy Williams, Susan Spicer, Susan Corbin, Wayne Dombrowki, Debbie Greenwood, (two in front) Shannon Graves and Jon Hemingway.