Annual Conference

Upcoming MBPN Conference 

Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020

The MBPN Annual Conference is returning to East Lansing as part of MSU’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Week. (The barn tour will be held in the fall in northeast Michigan.)

Registration: $60 members; $100 non-members. Click here

Venue: Kellogg Center, 219 S Harrison Rd, East Lansing, MI 48824 (See below for overnight accommodations.)


Traditional barns are an artform – a traditional art, learned directly from a craftsperson, through side-by-side work with traditional tools. In addition to their use, their presence in our communities and on the landscape inspires artists and photographers to document their beauty in-place.

We fix barns up – for special reasons, adapt them for new uses, and are inspired to copy them for special places. This year’s conference provides examples of all this – exploring Michigan barns and their uses through agriculture, family pride, tourism and rural heritage.  

Morning Session:

The day-long event will start with registration and coffee & muffins at 8:30 a.m. and the Membership Meeting at 9 a.m.

Keynote: Old Barns as Art – Port Austin’s Plan for Cultural Tourism

Carl Osentoski, executive director of the Huron County Economic Development Corporation, will discuss how Port Austin came up with a creative way to repurpose barns and preserve a piece of local history. He’ll showcase the Thumb Area’s rural arts and tourism project, in which artists from Detroit reconceived three Port Austin barns through environmental adaptation, sculpture and mural art. These art installations shed new light on adaptive reuse possibilities for old barns.

Photos 1 & 2: “Secret Sky” by artist/architect Catie Newell debuted in 2019 and has received national acclaim.

Photo 3:  Barn boat sculpture by Scott Hocking entitled “Emergency Ark.”

Photo 4: Pigeon mural (34-ft high) painted by Steve and Dorota Coy, who call themselves the Hygienic Dress League. 

Barn Quilt Trails – A Celebration of Agricultural Heritage

Quilt blocks on barns have been popping up across rural America, supporting agritourism and drawing attention to family and rural heritage. Michigan is active in the barn quilt movement with trails in 28 counties that promote an appreciation of barns and the legacy of quilt making. The Gratiot County Barn Quilt Trail alone has 70 blocks on the route, including speaker Cathy McCune’s family farm.

Hex Signs – Magic Symbols or Pure Decor?

Storyteller Jim Mulvaney will present the history of Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs and their possible meaning. He’ll show how hex signs are made and identify a Michigan source for reproducing them on light-weight aluminum for easy mounting on barns. 

He’ll also entertain us with paranormal tales:

  • A spooky story of a farmer on a windy farm
  • One man’s bad experience with getting what he asked for in a hex sign
  • The true value of two witches in every dairy barn

The lunch program includes:

  • Barn of the Year Awards to recognize preservation efforts and honor Michigan barns that exemplify outstanding character. 
  • Live auction to benefit MBPN featuring Williamston auctioneer Chuck Chestnut. (Interested in donating items for the live auction? Contact Jeanette Routhier at or 810-287-5634.)
Afternoon Speakers
“Someday Farm” – Reimagining What Our Barn Could Be

Colin Herren, a general contractor in Mt. Pleasant, built his home on the outskirts of town and bought additional acreage when the adjacent abandoned farmstead went up for sale. He and his wife Amy deemed the deteriorating barn a someday project and spent the first few years clearing six acres of overgrown timber, brush, old implements and trash.

The barn required stabilization in 2012 after a harsh winter caused a near collapse and more repair in 2014. Then “someday” really came in 2015 when they officially started serious restorations so the barn might last another few generations. After each mini success, they saw that the barn could be more than they originally imagined. Their efforts came to fruition in the fall of 2018 when they hosted 400 people at the barn for their daughter’s wedding.

Duplicating the Walt Whitman Barn
Good Intentions Gone Awry…

Jim Bowes inherited his grandfather’s property – 20 acres of unimproved woodland in Midland County. To honor his grandfather, Jim wanted to erect a post and beam building as a vacation home. The inspiration for his design was Jeanette Routhier’s model of a barn at the Walt Whitman Birthplace historic site. 

Jim and Jeanette will tell the tale of their process — of planning, learning, constructing, and dealing with all the unexpected glitches to follow the vision in their hearts.

Rest assured, vision rarely equals final outcome. In other words, says Jeanette, “It ain’t what we thought it was going to be. But providence stepped in and gave us a bigger dream come true.”

Kellogg Center Housing

Room rate: $125 + 13% = $141.25.
Call 800-875-5090 and refer to the Group Code: 2002BARNPR or
Block Name: MI Barn Preservation.
For online booking, go to
▪ Click on the “Reservations” link at the top of the page
▪ Select “Book Now Online” link
▪ Enter arrival, departure, rooms, and number of adults / children
▪ Select “More Options” and enter your Group Code: 2002BARNPR
▪ Click “Check Availability”