Tag Archives: Kentucky tobacco barn

Tobacco and the Art of Manliness

I have spent several days making this painting, and several additional hours this afternoon learning about the tobacco plant, and how it is raised and cured and hung and chopped and rolled and marketed… all so I can  understand why this barn is the way it is.  And I must admit, it is fascinating.  Did you know that there are actually several web pages devoted to “How to Smoke a Pipe”?  No, really, and the Art of Manliness has really good pix from the 50’s…

sketch of black tobacco barn

“Kentucky Tobacco Barn”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I photographed this barn as we wound our way through the backroads of Kentucky.  I SO wanted to creep inside, just to see what it smelled like in that rich darkness… I imagined it would be like the cherry flavored tobacco my Dad smoked… but I could also imagine a big bad hound dog exploding off a nearby porch, or a cranky old tobacco farmer taking exception to my curiousity, so I chickened out.  Several questions came to mind about Kentucky barns – why black?  To absorb the heat from the sun and aid in the curing process.  Why the slats on the sides?  To open as needed to let the air circulate.  How do they hang the leaves?  Lots of answers to this one, mostly either by slitting the stem and poking a stick through, or tying bundles of leaves to the stick.  To be honest, the “curing” process sounds almost as voodoo as the brewing process for beer – they make it up as they go along, with a general recipe in mind maybe, but mostly it’s just dumb luck.  I mean in the end, you just burn it up anyway, so it all seems a bit silly.  Sir Walter Raleigh made monkeys out of the “Conquerors” when he sent tobacco back home to Europe, although it took several centuries for anyone to figure that out.

And thus it is that I am fascinated by tobacco at the moment, but I am also repulsed.  Everyone in my world, with the possible exception of my mother, thought smoking was sexy as I was growing up.  Think “Mad Men.”  My Aunt Muriel’s cigarette filters always had bright red ends from her lipstick.  My father smoked a pipe for years, but then in the 60’s we all figured out that it was bad for his health.  My brothers and I harrassed him unmercifully until he finally gave it up.  At about the same time, I realized that those pruny lines raying out from my grandmothers lips were no doubt from her habit of “hands free” cigarett smoking… Ew.  So there went sexy.  And to the young people of my acquaintance who might read this – keep those pruny lines in mind the next time you light up.  Not to mention your lovely cough in the mornings.  Just sayin’.