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The Barn Artist paints 250 years of history into Ohio’s landscape

 A man stands on an orange lift to paint an old, white barn. He's working on a scene depicting a colonial shipbuilder.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Scott Hagan paints Commodore Abraham Whipple on a barn near Marietta, Ohio. Historians say the shipbuilder lived in the area.

The barn on state Route 821, just outside of Marietta on the eastern edge of Ohio, is old.

Its gray wood panels are wide and full of holes. The left side was once painted with an ancient “mail pouch tobacco” advertisement. Years of bright sun have made the letters look almost transparent.

An old wooden barn painted with an advertisement for Mail Pouch Tobacco
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
One side of the barn on state Route 821, just outside of Marietta, is painted with an ancient “mail pouch tobacco” advertisement. Years of bright sun have made the letters look almost transparent.

The other side, however, is covered in a coat of fresh, white paint.

Ten feet in the air, on a mechanical lift, Scott Hagan adds splashes of color to the giant canvas.

“I’m the barn artist,” he said. “And I’m just out here painting a barn today.”

With precise strokes, his paintbrush gives way to a 20-foot-tall man in a colonial hat and black buckle shoes. It’s Commodore Abraham Whipple. Historians say the ship builder lived just miles from this barn.

“His face and his body will be here. You can see it,” Hagan said, pointing to a miniature sketch of the barnside mural. “A sail ship will be behind him.”

A few nights before, Hagan worked past sunset, projecting this image onto the barn so he could trace an outline of the figures.

Now, he fills in the lines with gallons of green, blue and red paint.

“Essentially, I’m making this paint by number on a large scale,” he said.

 A hand holds a clipboard with a sketch of Commodore Abraham Whipple standing next to the Mound Cemetery and a revolutionary war ship
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Scott Hagan holds up a clipboard with a sketch of the art he's painting on the Marietta barn. A few nights before, he projected this image onto the barn and outlined the figures. Now, he's filling in the lines with color.

How the Barn Artist got his start

Hagan started painting barns like this when he was 19 years old. A budding artist, he wanted to see just how big he could scale his work.

“And so I asked my dad if I could paint something on his barn,” he said.

A few days later, that barn sported a giant Ohio State Buckeyes logo, and Hagan scored a new job. His work had attracted the attention of some state officials.

“They were about to start [commemorating] the Ohio bicentennial, the 200th birthday of Ohio,” Hagan said. “This was back in ‘97, and they were about to do a bunch of billboards around the state. They thought, ‘Why not want to do barns instead of billboards?’”

Over the next several years, Hagan painted 88 barns across Ohio with the bicentennial banner— one in every county of the state.

The project ended in time for the state's bicentennial in 2003.

But while the paint might have dried up, Hagan’s career did not.

Since then, he’s painted barns with American flags, barns with quilt squares, barns with Bob Evans logos and barns with smiley faces.

Barn art for the nation’s semiquincentennial 

Now, he’s embarking on a new barn project.

In preparation for the nation’s 250th birthday in 2026, Hagan is partnering with the Ohio History Connection to decorate barns with images that tell the state’s history.

“We're kind of creating the museum of Ohio all around Ohio,” said Stephen George, the Ohio History Connection’s chief strategist.

George has been working with Hagan to create some of these barns already.

“We've done Commodore Perry and Lake Erie,” he said. “We've done Tecumseh in Greene County. We've done the Packard automobile, which is a really cool design up in the Youngstown area and Trumbull County. We've done a football rivalry.”

And Hagan just completed a portrait of former president Ulysses S. Grant in Georgetown, Ohio.

 A painting of former president Ulysses S. Grant on the side of a barn
Scott Hagan
Scott Hagan painted former president Ulysses S. Grant on the side of a barn in Georgetown, Ohio this summer.

George said the plan is to create a dozen of these paintings each year until the nation’s semiquincentennial.

He hopes every time someone drives by a barn painting, they’re prompted to look closer into Ohio history.

“There's just a lot of history in Ohio, and even the most famous chapters, people are only vaguely aware of,” he said. “This is a way of piquing their interest as they drive around. I mean, you literally can't miss these things.”

Back at the barn in Marietta, Scott Hagan lowers the lift and steps back from his work to check on his progress.

Like the painted mail pouch tobacco ad on the barn’s other side, this art won’t last forever.

“Over the years, the weather will take its toll on it eventually,” Hagan said.

But no matter how fleeting, it’s Hagan’s own mark on history.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.