Artist seeks Trumbull County barns

Robert Kroeger wants to paint your barn.

No, he isn’t going to show up at Trumbull County farms with a couple of five-gallon buckets and a roller. Kroeger, who lives in Cincinnati, wants to create paintings of the historic barns in the area, and SMARTS (Students Motivated by the ARTS) will be the beneficiary of his passion.

That passion was ignited about seven years ago when he and his wife were on their way to a bed and breakfast in Licking County. At an intersection, there was a small grey barn that clearly was old and was showing its age.

“Like a thunderbolt right between the eyes, it just captivated me,” Kroeger said during a telephone interview. “I heard a voice whisper inside my head, ‘You’re going to do this, write a story about this barn, do a painting,’ and that’s it.”

He went back the next day and got the initially reluctant owner to tell him the history of the barn and allow him to take some photographs of it.

That initial painting led to a desire to paint barns from all 88 counties in Ohio, to capture what he sees as a part of Ohio history that is vanishing to age and decay. He’s visited about two dozen counties so far and is looking at Trumbull County as one of his next destinations.

“I like barns built prior to 1930,” Kroeger said. “I like ones that maybe are on their last legs — sagging roofs, missing boards, tilting a little bit. If the barn has a metal roof, that’s OK, but I don’t like metal siding.”

He’s a big fan of barns with slate roofs, something that is more common in northeast Ohio than in his corner of the state, Kroeger said. He also wants to know as much about the history of the barn as possible.

“If there’s a story behind the barn, that’s a plus,” he said.

Kroeger, 71, is a bit of a Renaissance man. He’s actually Dr. Kroeger, a dentist with a private practice in Cincinnati until he retired in 2010. He’s a marathon runner and avid golfer. He’s also written several books on dentistry and the golf courses of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England.

His interest in art started at a young age and came from his father, who earned a degree in fine art from Notre Dame and worked as a commercial artist in Youngstown.

Instead of a brush, Kroeger creates his barn paintings with a palette knife, using the tool to maneuver large amounts of oil paint on the canvas.

“I like it thick,” he said, referring to the paint. “It’s a trade off between abstract, which I don’t like, and detailed, which is like taking a picture. It’s difficult to get detail with a palette, but the trade off is I like the texture.”

He especially likes it when the paintings are displayed in a room with a lot of natural light, where the sun hits those layers of paint in different ways throughout the day.

“It’s like getting a different painting all the time,” Kroeger said.

Kroeger photographs as many as a dozen sites in each county. He usually makes his visits in the spring or fall and is planning on coming to Trumbull County in May.

“It’s too hot in the summer, and if the crops are up, you don’t get good views of the barn,” he said.

Kroeger has enlisted the help of Becky Keck, executive director at the community arts school SMARTS, to help him find local barns to paint. For her efforts, Kroeger will do a palette knife painting demonstration at SMARTS and donate one of the paintings to the school to auction off at its Art for SMARTS fundraiser in October.

“I was really excited when I saw his work,” Keck said. “It’s unique and different from what our students normally see. It should be a great learning experience for them to see his work, and we’re always looking for ways to raise money. It was a very generous offer to make.”

Keck has an affection for barns herself. She grew up next to her grandparents, and her grandfather purchased a barn located about two hours away and reassembled the structure on his property. Keck said she loved to catch frogs there, and it attracted all kinds of critters, including a bobcat once.

It stood until the mid-1980s, when the roof collapsed after a heavy snow.

“I cant wait to see what we can find that’s out there, that’s available, to see what catches his eye,” Keck said.

When possible, Kroeger likes to frame his barn paintings from old wood from the structure itself. If the owner is willing to donate some of the wood, Kroeger gives them a small study painting of their barn.

“I’m just trying to save a little piece of Ohio history,” he said.



Artist Robert Kroeger is looking for historic barns (pre-1930) in Trumbull County as the subjects for his paintings. Any owners interested in allowing Kroeger to photograph their barns for his project are encouraged to contact SMARTS by calling 330-574-2787 or emailing Executive Director Becky Keck at

More information on Kroeger’s barn paintings can be found online at