Since 2005, the renovated Dahmen Barn has been host to Northwest artisans, with the help of Barn manager Leslee Miller. From publicity to event planning, Miller has worked closely with artists, mediaand her husband, Dale, the Uniontown Community Development Association president. Now, the Barn has earned money from a county economic development fund, as well as a grant from ArtPlace America, to add on and expand from just 10 studio spaces, allowing more artisans, events and storage in the coming years. Here, Miller talks about the Barn’s history, her history with art, past exhibits and the plan for the future — culinary art classes are even in the works.
What has been your favorite art exhibit at the Barn?
My all time most favorite exhibit we had at the Barn was Growth Rings in 2009 … The work, all by local wood artists, was world class … We had a really interesting exhibit earlier this year, Jonathan Sachs,
who is from Maryland, the east coast. He had come out here a couple of times to photograph the Palouse. It’s his favorite place in the world. He ended up in Sprague and came across an interesting collection of very, very, very old farm trucks. And so he took a lot of pictures there and he’s done two books. I spent a couple of years in photography school, so I really appreciate his work, but his eye for detail is just amazing. Things just popped off the walls.
What kind of music have you had here?
The Hog Heaven Big Band played at our grand opening and they’ll be back again this month. For several years, they played every single month. And bless their hearts … They’re 16 pieces and it’s big … they come in and set-up here and they took up this whole space. They would truck everything up the stairs, because we didn’t have the elevator for a few years. They took all the cases up to the third floor and it was really, really tight, but every month they would come no matter.
Are you an artist yourself?
I don’t produce art on a daily basis. I think I use my creativity most days of the week anymore. It’s a way of looking at the world and doing what you do, a way of solving problems. You have to be really creative here, because we run this place on a shoestring … Even though my parents thought I was nuts to major in art — and I never took art in high school, I started at the university — it’s paid off, it’s really paid off in my daily life. After (me and my husband) moved here from Seattle in ‘89, we started raising alpacas. They’re kind of designer animals. My degree is in textile design. So, working with the animals was a real treat, and we did that for 18 years. As I worked with the alpacas, I really had to hone my marketing skills, and so one thing that’s really helped the Barn get up and going has been the publicity program. I also have planned events for decades. They just all kind of fit together with this job.
What’s been the biggest challenge through the years?
There’s not nearly enough storage space … in the shop, there’s no place for backstock. It’s made life hard. That’s one thing we want to solve with the new building. Kind of like when the Hog Heaven Big Band played, all that stuff had to be hauled downstairs until we got that elevator … I work from home. There’s no room for me here.
What do you have to do as manager of the Barn that people wouldn’t expect?
I buy the restroom supplies. I’ve got the Costco card. There’s so many parts to what I do to package it together. And luckily, I’ve got great back-up from the board members and the community people. There’s always somebody I can call to help.
Tell me about the proposed culinary art classes.
We came up with the idea, one of the board members did, of the teaching kitchen and we’ve been consulting with a couple professionals that would love to help us design the kitchen and our teaching program.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love working with the artists and the board members. Somebody asked me once, “Is your job like herding cats, if you have to work with artists all the time?” And I thought, “No, it really isn’t.” There’s such a synergy when they’re together and it’s just very invigorating. I really appreciate how well the board works together. We’ve never had anybody get mad and stomp out of a meeting. If there’s an issue, we’ll talk it through and everybody gets on board. It’s not a tug-o’-war.
Treffry can be contacted at (208) 883-4640 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @LindseyTreffry.
Upcoming Dahmen Barn events:
Now through Sunday — Quilts by Palouse Patchers will be on display through Sept. 29. The quilt theme is “Elements: Water, Earth, Wind and Fire.”
2 p.m. Sunday — The Palouse Country Cowboy Poetry Association will perform cowboy poetry and music. Admission is $7 at the door.
10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4 — Okaidja & Shókoto, an African and world music group, will perform music and dance for free. The performance is presented by WSU Performing Arts as part of the first annual Humanitas Festival.
2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 — Nordic Spirit, an old-time Scandinavian group will perform in authentic costumes. Scandinavian refreshments will be for sale during intermission. Admission is $10 at the door.
10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 — Seven students ages 16 and up, led by artist Mary Lou Wayne, will sculpt a head for a Santa character doll. The cost is $77 and includes some supplies; students must bring others. For details and the required advance registration call (509) 229-3414 or online at artisanbarn.org.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 — Portland musicians Brongaene Griggin, Elizabeth Nicholson and Bob Soper will perform Celtic music. Admission is $10 at the door.