If Park City has an artist’s Inspiration Point, it is the McPolin Farm
If Park City has an Inspiration Point, a place that attracts artists with their paints and brushes or professional photographers weighed down with their various cameras and lenses, it is along the S.R. 224 entryway.
As drivers heading into Park City on the state highway approach, the white barn and the acres of fields of the McPolin Farm spread across their windshields. It marks the entry to Park City and a largely undeveloped swath of land separating Park City from the bustling corridor through the Snyderville Basin.
The scene is a pastoral welcome to Park City set against a mountainous backdrop. Park City leaders long ago recognized the picturesque view, acquiring the historic property in 1990 in what remains perhaps City Hall’s most beloved conservation purchase.
Artists and professional photographers have for decades been drawn to the McPolin Farm. Some create their images in the summer, with a lush green background contrasting starkly with the white paint of the barn. Others want the blazing colors of the fall aspen leaves in the background. The winter offers them a snowy scene befitting a place in the mountains like Park City.
The McPolin Farm is almost a required subject matter for artists or professional photographers in Park City. They are regularly seen with their easels or cameras on the farm grounds or on the side of the state highway. Their customers seek out the images, they say.
Some of the works featuring the McPolin Farm will undoubtedly be available during the weekend’s Park City Kimball Arts Festival, which annually offers slots to area artists and photographers. They are perpetually for sale in Main Street galleries as an iconic image of Park City.
The portfolios of artists and photographers in the Park City area include repeated but dramatically different works with the McPolin Farm as the subject matter. Some have created images year after year, seeing something new to sharpen or soften each time.
"Its setting speaks to people," says Liza Simpson, a member of the Park City Council who works with a group known as the Friends of the Farm, adding, "You could stand at the barn and close your eyes halfway and imagine people herding cows in to be milked."
Every angle is interesting
Patricia Smith most recently put paintbrush to canvas with the McPolin Farm as her subject in the middle of the last decade.
But Smith was probably among the first professional artists who painted an image of the farm, starting in an era when the Park City ski industry was in its formative years. She has created maybe a dozen artworks of the McPolin Farm since her first in the early 1960s.
The early ones were done long before Park City’s boom eras in the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when the acreage was still a working farm. She recalls cows crossing a street on the edge of the property in the mornings and evenings as she studied the farm.
"It’s very pastoral to be out there, very peaceful. Even now, when you get off the road," Smith says.
Her artist’s eye trains on the barn, and the acreage, including the willow trees, around the building adds to the setting. The white paint reflects light all year, she says. The shape of the building, meanwhile, has its own contrasts with its cylinders and flat surfaces, Smith says, describing a fascination with the geometry of the barn.
"It’s the romantic idea. It’s part of a familiar history that doesn’t exist anymore," she says.
Smith has lived in the Park City area since 2000 and spent eight years locally in the 1970s and 1980s. She remains one of the area’s prominent artists. Her images of the McPolin Farm, made with watercolors, are some of the area’s best known works featuring the barn. It could take a few hours to finish a painting, Smith says.
"If it weren’t in its setting, it wouldn’t be as beautiful," Smith says, adding, "From every angle, it’s interesting."
A cover shot
Rick Pieros, who lives in Cottonwood Heights after having lived in Park City for 15 years starting in the early 1990s, has not succeeded in capturing the photograph he wants to of the McPolin Farm.
The professional photographer has made at least 100 images of the farm in the past 20 or so years, but he has never shot it splashed in colors arcing across the sky.
"In my wildest dreams, I’d love to get it with a rainbow," Pieros says.
Pieros owned a photography gallery on Main Street for five years in the time after the 2002 Winter Olympics, saying images of the farm were the top sellers. In the years since, though, he says, the National Garage in Old Town, another iconic historic building in Park City, sells the best.
Pieros chose a wintertime image of the McPolin Farm as the cover of his 2011 photography book, "Park City Past & Present."
"There was no doubt that was going on the cover. Eighty percent of the buying decision is based on the cover," he says.
Pieros talks about a picturesque setting when describing his interest in the barn and the surrounding land as a subject for his photography, saying the property welcomes people to Park City. He sees the angles in the architecture of the barn itself as a draw for a photographer as well.
The winter is his favorite season to shoot images. He says wintertime photography at the McPolin Farm is best done in the morning. As the day progresses, Pieros says, the front of the barn falls into the shadows.
"You get a better feeling of isolation in the winter," he says.
‘Synonymous with Park City’
Tom Mills, a photographer who sells images of scenes of Park City at the Park Silly Sunday Market and elsewhere, has not made an image of the barn to put up for sale in perhaps four years.
At that time, he shot a photograph depicting a winter scene looking southward, in the direction of Park City. He also took one in the fall looking toward the north. He says sales of the images since then have been just "so-so," but he has them available nonetheless.
"They come in specifically looking for a photo of the barn," Mills says. "They seem to understand that it’s sort of synonymous with Park City and just ask, ‘Do you have a photo of that barn on the way into town.’"
Mills talks of a small stream that runs through the farm’s acreage as one of the details a photographer looks for in an image when training the lenses on the barn.
As a photographer working in Park City, Mills says, it is almost a requirement he have an image of the McPolin Farm for customers to consider as they browse his photographs. Mills lived in Park City for 16 years before moving to Salt Lake City 1 1/2 years ago.
Some seek an image of the barn with the giant American flag draped over the side that faces S.R. 224. He has not shot such a photograph, he must tell them.
"I just see some pretty cool barn design, as far as barns go," he says. "It’s got a lot of neat windows, a lot of details going on the door."
So simple in structure
Lanny Barnard, an oil painter in the impressionistic style who lives in Salt Lake City, has a gallery on Main Street with her paintings hanging on the walls and antiques set out almost everywhere else.
Three of her paintings on display at the gallery are of the McPolin Farm. She recently finished another one and plans more in the fall, winter and spring. Over the past 16 years, Barnard says, she has painted images of the barn upward of 55 times.
"Every time I sell a barn painting, I paint another one," she says.
For Barnard, one of the draws of the McPolin Farm as a subject is its design, "so simple," she says. Many barns she sees have decorative features, but not the one in Park City, Barnard says, commending its careful treatment over the years.
"It’s been taken care of so beautifully. Most barns you see have been destroyed in different ways," she says.
As Barnard paints the McPolin Farm she especially studies the barn, looking at the details like she would a person if she was painting a portrait.
"I love the simplicity of the barn, the ways the windows are structured," she says, adding, "Barns almost have faces, to me."
It could take two weeks or longer to finish a painting of the McPolin Farm, she says. The fall colors in the background may highlight one of her paintings. Or, the white barn set amid a snowy winter scene makes an attractive painting, she says.
"The barn is so beautiful during the different seasons," she says. "When I drive up to Park City and see it, I have to paint it again."
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