If I had to think of one image to define my Bussett heritage, it would be a big red barn.
Not just any red barn, but the red barn that stands as a cornerstone of childhood memories for me and every Bussett relative I’ve known.
A steadfast backdrop for family gatherings, it has stood watch over generations of Bussetts as we celebrated holidays, births, marriages and mourned the loss of loved ones.
It was a place off-limits to play, but none of us heeded those warnings. We raced up and down the rubber conveyor belt that hoisted hay bales to the top floor. We climbed, crawled, squeezed, and shimmied through every crevice. An artifact that fueled our imaginations and filled us with a sense of wonder.
Welcoming, yet ominous, it held a stillness. For me, walking into the barn always felt like crossing the threshold to another realm. The air felt cooler. Microscopic dust particles floated through sun rays shining through gaps in the boards, like tiny specks of glitter suspended in air. The earthy aroma of livestock drifted through and mingled with the sweet, grassy warmth of hay stacked upstairs. It was a place of pure magic.
Where It All Began
In 1908, my great grandparents, Essie and James Bussett, married and moved to an 80-acre farm in Kellyville, Oklahoma. While I don’t have concrete data on when the barn was erected, my grandfather believed it was around the time he was 2-years old. He told stories of being a diapered toddler scampering up rickety wooden ladders and playing in the hay. That would put the barn being built around 1916.
My grandparents, Ralph and Jackie, moved back to the Kellyville farm in 1943 and stayed four years before moving to Kansas to be closer to grandma’s kin. My dad and two uncles were born at the farm during that time.
In 1957, Ralph and Jackie made the permanent move back to the farm and many years later, Great Grandma Essie would return to live out the final years of her 100-year life.
Dad recalls many afternoons spent playing basketball in the loft with brothers and friends. He joked it was a tricky endeavor to avoid the opening at the top of the ladder that led downstairs or flying out the door while making a layup as the hoop was stationed directly above the door that led to nowhere.
The netless hoop still hangs today, though I’m not sure the floor could withstand the bustle of a basketball game.
“The Farm” as it was – and still is – referred to, was the central hub of the Bussett family. I am the second-youngest of all my cousins. There are big gaps in age between me and my older cousins and probably also vast differences in memories. I grew up less than ten minutes away, so a trip to The Farm was a regular occurrence and not too different of an experience from my own home. For some cousins, The Farm was a place to seek out adventure and break out of city-life routines. At family gatherings, I remember older cousins riding horses or motorbikes or playing pool in the basement – a basement that terrified me as a small child (Becca, my younger cousin, can back me up on this).
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized just how lucky I am – how lucky we all are – to have such a close-knit family. We may not see or talk to each other on a regular basis, but each of us knows there’s an army of cousins behind us should we ever need support. For that, I am grateful.
Painting the Barn
Attending a family gathering during my last visit home, my cousin’s wife pulled me aside to ask if I’d be interested in painting the barn. It felt serendipitous as I’d recently had that exact thought, but knew it deserved to be a big painting, and up until that point, I’d only been painting small sizes in the van. I asked what size she was thinking, and she said 3.5’ x 5’ – just a little bigger than I had ever painted since living in the van! Anyone who knew me prior to vanlife knows I used to paint large portraits. My heart is definitely still drawn to large sizes, so I said yes without really thinking through how it all might work.
I decided to paint on loose canvas so I could roll it up at the end of each day and keep it safely stored in the confined space of the van. Dad and I went to the local Ace Hardware, purchased a 55” x 3” piece of PVC pipe and created a nice storage tube for the canvas. That’s where it has lived ever since. I wasn’t certain how well it would work, if the paint would stick to itself, or crack, or sweat – you name it, any of those scenarios could have happened – but, none did. Everything worked perfectly.
The exterior of the van became my easel.
Utilizing a combination of clips and magnets, I suspended the canvas from the awning, keeping the canvas as taut against the van as possible. It was constant trial and error to battle wind, rain, and blinding sunlight. I love a good challenge, and this large painting has inspired me to create even more large canvas paintings in the future.
I finished the painting, had it professionally photographed so I could provide print reproductions and shipped it off to my cousin. It was to be a surprise, which is why I haven’t shared any information or images of the painting until now. All that remains is for the loose canvas to be stretched onto a frame, and it will be ready to hang.
I am SO very grateful to have been given the opportunity to paint such an important part of my family’s history. I have to admit I had a lot of conversations with my ancestors as I painted. I was nervous when I first began because the barn holds such a huge place in all our hearts, and I wanted to do my best to capture the magic of it, to give reverence to the sacred space it has become for all of us. So, I asked previous Bussetts for help, which may make me sound a little crazy, but I’m okay with that. I think a little crazy runs through all our Bussett veins anyway. 😉
The barn still stands today, though its wooden bones show signs of weariness. Maybe our next Bussett reunion can be a gathering to breathe some new life back into the barn. To steady its bones and give it the love and attention it deserves.
Bussett Farm Prints
While the final painting will hang proudly in my cousin’s beautiful new home, I’m excited to offer both paper and wrapped canvas prints of the image.