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Woman uses paintings to bring attention to farms in Panhandle

May 20, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Wildflower-filled meadows. An antique tractor. Silos reaching toward the sky on a farm. A tree-lined country lane.

The scenes may not seem like much to some people.

But to Marian Buckner, they represent what is disappearing in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

Concerned about the rate at which farms are disappearing and turning into residential developments, Buckner decided to try something new to bring the public's attention to the issue.

Using a $2,300 grant from the state Department of Culture and History, Buckner began painting local farm scenes that she felt illustrated the rural beauty of Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

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Over the last year, Buckner has painted 18 large to medium-sized pictures and 30 smaller ones.

Starting May 30 and continuing through July 5, the artwork will be exhibited in the Boarman Arts Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Buckner is hoping that when people look at her paintings, they will realize what is at risk.

"This is a beautiful county," Buckner said from her Jefferson County home Sunday. "Have you opened your eyes to it? Maybe you see grass. I see a lot more."

Buckner, who has been involved in attempts to preserve the area's agricultural economy, got the idea for the project after reading about how the region's rural landscape was rated as some of the most important in the country.

In 1999, Scenic America, the only national organization dedicated to protecting the country's natural beauty, decided to rate the top 12 endangered or "Last Chance Landscapes" in the country, Buckner said.

Included in the list was the entire region from the Shenandoah Mountains to the Catoctin Mountains, which takes in Jefferson and Berkeley counties, Buckner said.

"Look, this isn't just ordinary scenery we're talking about. This is scenery of national importance," she said.

Buckner already knew which landscapes would work well for the project. Many were forever etched in her memory through her decade of living in Jefferson County. To make sure she included all the important details of the landscape in her painting, she photographed the scenes before putting them to canvas.

Buckner declined to say where the scenes are located. Because she could view some of them from public roads, the owners of the properties may not have known she was considering them for her project. She got permission from some landowners to enter their property, but she does not want to identify them because she does not know how they will feel about their names being in print.

Besides, it's a farmer's choice whether he or she wants to sell land for development or take advantage of methods to preserve it, Buckner said.

"I'm trying not to step on toes," she said.

Buckner talks about the paintings in general descriptions. One shows wildflowers in a meadow, she says. Others show an antique tractor, a mountain view, a cornfield and other landscapes.

Buckner is also a member of the Potomac Headwaters Resource, Conservation and Development Council, an organization that recently came up with a comprehensive plan on how to protect the area's farming industry in the face of rapid development.

"The Rural Option" considered a variety of ways to spur farming and save farmland, including use of land trust organizations, which protect farmland from development through protective easements.

Other state and local officials have been involved in saving farmland through the passage of a state law two years ago that allowed Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties to set up farmland protection boards.

The boards are designed to protect farmland from development by offering farmers money to set up protective easements on their land.

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