Our History

In loving memory of our founder Jan Sullivan, 1920-2016

The history of the Art Barn encompasses the vision of one remarkable individual–Janet Sullivan always wanted to be a farmer and a painter, and got her wish after spending her career as a Supervisor of Art Education for the Chicago Schools and later as a professor at Valparaiso University.

In 1969 Jan and her husband Bud purchased a 19th century farm east of Valparaiso in Jackson Township. Cattle filled the pastures and were herded into the lower barn.   Jan began hosting informal art workshops, classes for children, and plein air painting in the woods and fields of the farm—which was aptly nicknamed “Happy Jan’s Farm.”

Jan visited The Clearing Folk School in Door County, Wisconsin, where artists stayed and painted in rustic cabins and studios designed by architect Jens Jensen.  Jan saw herself and her artist friends as the nucleus of a group that could establish something similar in Northwest Indiana.

By 1977 local legends such as Hazel Hannel, Konrad Juestel, Harriet Rex Smith, David Sanders, and Virginia Phillips had joined her in teaching  in the 100 year old restored barn.   A friend from the day recalls,”I remember taking classes in the barn and there were bales of hay stacked in the foyer.”

 

In 1984 the Art Barn School of Art, Inc. became a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to fostering a love of art in a unique, rural environment.  At this time the basement was enclosed and the bathrooms and kitchen of the barn were renovated.  Drywall and ceiling were added to the main classroom and the famous blue worktables were built.

During the winter Jan traveled abroad to paint in countries including Mexico, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and Greece.  In her mid 80’s Jan bought a house in Mexico and spent winters there painting, swimming, and living with her customary joie de vivre.

Jan Sullivan truly believed that anyone can create art—and her enthusiasm was contagious.  She loved to be surrounded by friends and always had a reason to hold a celebration at Happy Jan Farm. When new ideas came up her energetic response was often, “Do it!”

Drawn to Jan’s magnetic personality through the years, countless dedicated people helped develop opportunities for beginners, encouraged and mentored those coming back to art, and helped raise funds.

Thousands of visitors have enjoyed artists on display in the gallery and gift shop. 1996 saw the Art Barn’s first Juried Exhibition, a spring tradition that continues today. Last year over $5000 was awarded in cash and prizes at the gala opening.

The Art Barn Received a Rose Award for Cultural Attraction of the Year in 2003.  Popular for over a decade, the Sunflower Festival was a chance to invite the community to enjoy and paint acres of gorgeous sunflowers.

In that colorful tradition, 2017 marked the first annual Art Blitz, a multi media, hands-on invitation for the public to explore and observe art in the making. Art Blitz is an entertaining, cooperative chance for visitors of all ages to discover what art means to them, and what the Art Barn and other local studios and galleries have to offer.

 

The Art Barn School of Art—-Jan Sullivan’s vision—-continues to be a place of inspiration for the creative soul and support for the artist within. We’re still making history.  Come and visit us and see for yourself.  Explore what art means to you. “Do it!”