HANCOCK COUNTY — Christine Barnes was destined to paint… well, barns.
“I love barns, my maiden name is Barnes and I married a Barnes,” said Barnes, who with her husband owns Barn Painting & Advertising Inc. out of Hanover, Pennyslvania. The company travels the country painting barns and reviving barn-siding advertising that at one time was a staple of many scenic drives. Slogans such as “See Beautiful Rock City…” and “Chew Mailpouch Tobacco” were as well-known as anything Madison Avenue could dream up.
Last fall, Barnes and company turned the side of the Lewis Pork Farms barn in eastern Hancock County into a barn-sized poster promoting Tyson Foods’ NatureRaised chicken products.
“That just shows you how good a saleswoman I am, convincing a pork farmer to put up a sign for chicken,” Barnes said.
“We were just standing out there one day and she drove up,” said Mike Lewis, farm co-owner. “She just started talking to us and showing us pictures of barns she’d done. She said she was going to put some kind of Tyson Chicken sign up, and I said, ‘No we won’t be doing that.’”
The deal was a pretty good one for Lewis. He got an upfront cash payment for allowing his barn to be used as a standing billboard. And when the ad has run its course, his barn will be repainted the color of his choice, Barnes said.
“We thought it was too good to be true, and now it turns out maybe it was,” Lewis said.
The art, it seems, violates the county’s signage laws. The county regulations do not permit off-premises signs, advertisements or billboards.
“There are very few areas in the county that allow off-premises advertising, and this is one of them, (that doesn’t)” said county planning director Mike Dale.
“As much as we like the farmers, if we show them preferential treatment in what we allow, then we have to do the same for others. It’s a floodgate problem,” Dale said.
“We didn’t realize it would be considered a billboard,” Lewis said.
Barnes, who started the painting company with husband, Tim, in 2006 as a way to earn some extra money during the recession, said she and her mother knocked the Lewis barn out in fairly short order – about four or five days, which included scraping and pressure washing.
From that point, the painters use lifts, sprayers, rollers and paint brushes for the details to complete the job.
She is quick to point out the work benefits the local economy by enhancing the value of the farmer’s barn, buying local paint and renting local equipment and creating what she said was a point of interest for those who like to travel and view roadside barn signs.
The issue is not entirely foreclosed. A petition to rezone the property to a designation that allows outdoor advertising and for exceptions to the county’s corridor overlay regulations could be filed.
And then there’s the federal government.
In 1965, the Highway Beautification Act, otherwise known as the “Lady Bird Johnson Act” for prodding her husband, President Lyndon Johnson, to sign the measure, called for control and in some cases removal of certain types of roadside signs along federal byways or other roads maintained with federal funds, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
“It’s not easily changed,” Dale said of the current sign situation. “It’s a real uphill battle.”
County officials are working with the farm and the painter to remove the painting and bring the barn into compliance, and either way, Lewis gets a freshly coated barn.
Barnes, however, said she’s willing to climb the hill if necessary, attending future county planning meetings to explore alternatives and seek what relief she can get.
“I don’t give up that easy. I love doing what we’re doing,” Barnes said. “I love barns.”