I grew up in Viroqua just down the road from the red tile barn. As an adult the red round barn passed through my mind off and on over the years. Memories of my grandma foremost, because she lived with us back then. Even though our house in Viroqua was in town, it turns out it was right at the edge of the countryside. Maybe this is why my memories of the barn stand apart--nothing comes before; it's only walking hand-in-hand with with Grandma in the middle of the country...going to see the red round barn.
I learned about Algie Shivers while I was in graduate school in Missoula. Fair notice: there's something of the metaphysical in this part the story, or at least it felt like it at the time. So, I purchased my first house next to the north-side rail yard in Missoula and often found myself crawling on my belly in the space underneath the house trying to fix a duct or squeak or whatever. In the middle of all of the filthy belly crawling I discovered that I had purchased a house without a foundation. I found it terribly hard to reconcile the dreams I made as a kid watching This Old House with my Dad, and the fact that I had been so silly as to buy a house held up by stacks of wood. Instead of installing a kitchen cabinet or crown molding I was fending off brown recluse spiders while flat on my back in my own private dusty cave. I kept wondering how and why it happened. Who builds a house without a foundation?
I kept wondering how and why it happened. Who builds a house without a foundation?
The striking thing about Algie Shivers' story and the story of the round barns is that only a handful of people knew anything at all about it until a few years ago (around the time of the first circle tour). The whole idea of an African American and a mixed race community a few miles away astounded me because up until that point I considered me and my family to by the only mixed race anything in the whole of southwest Wisconsin. I admit that I struggled to understand being of a community and sitting outside of it all at the same time. Could it be that by understanding something of Algie's story that I'd learn something about myself?
Back in Montana I learned a few things about my old house without a foundation. The first thing was that the house was pretty old. As early as 1870 there was a Chinese laundry out in the yard where I had just planted a couple of Ponderosa pines. Later a church of the Seventh Day Adventists was built on top of the site of the Chinese laundry and what must have been the pastor's house became the house without a foundation. The house itself started as essentially one room. Bits and pieces were added on over the years. A man named Solomon lived there the longest and made it a home while he was building many of the most beautiful brick and wood homes in the working class neighborhood. Solomon served in the army during the time of the Indian Wars. As an African American some called soldiers like him Buffalo Soldiers.
Why make a film about round barns? For me It was never a simple straight line answer. To be honest it wasn't exactly about "the barns" as pretty as they are. The zig-zag of not-quite-coincidences made me curious to learn about how the stories and history of things that stand apart converge with my own fleeting childhood memories.