Bernie Severance: a lifetime dedication to the Breeding Barn

Shelburne Farms recently lost a long-time friend, Bernie Severance (June 1, 1935 - May 7, 2021). In acknowledging the sadness of his passing, however, we want to celebrate the amazing legacy he left behind for us all: a beautiful scaled replica of the enormous Breeding Barn. 

Bernie first saw the barn as a child in the late 1940s, when his family visited Southern Acres Farm to buy Hereford stock. That initial visit would be followed by others, but it wasn’t until 1988 that he hatched the idea to make a model. “When I saw [the barn] in 1988, it was falling down. I wasn’t sure it was going to be there much longer.”  Committed to preserving the building in some way, but with no prior model-building experience, Bernie began his project on August 8, 1990. He thought it would take him about a year to complete.

Nine years later, he finished. (The Breeding Barn itself was built in about a quarter of that time in 1891.) The final replica stands 11.5 feet long and nearly 3 feet wide, built at a scale of 1 inch = 3 feet. Bernie and his wife Pat took stacks and stacks of photos of the barn (in the days before cell phone cameras!), to help them visualize and execute the building plan. And, while he was able to walk with crutches after losing mobility in an accident, Bernie worked on the model from his wheelchair to free up his hands. Pat would often assist him.

The accuracy, intricacy, and beauty of the model are astounding. By Bernie’s own accounting, the finished gem contains over 260,000 pieces. These include 95,000 hand-cut shingles for the roof and about 70,000 cedar shingles for the walls and dormers. With these and many additional materials, Bernie re-created 29 dormers, 668 windows, and 54 interior box stalls. Amazingly, the barn is also electrified: at the flick of a switch, 60 tiny lights illuminate the interior of the barn. 

The model was a labor of love and a work of art. We are so grateful to Bernie for it. Today, the model is housed in a secure room at the Breeding Barn, offering guided guests a way to more intimately appreciate the architectural wonder of the structure. 

And fortunately, Bernie lived long enough to know that his fears for the building were unfounded. In fact, thanks to the support of so many, ongoing restoration is ensuring that the irreplaceable barn will be with us for years to come as a three-season venue for educational, community, and agricultural events. This summer, work will begin on reshingling the entire building envelope below the roofline. Stay tuned!


NOTE: Because of the ongoing restoration work in the Breeding Barn, the model itself is not available for viewing.

SOURCES

  • Mease Stephen, “Super Model: Careful Craftsman Redesigns a Local Landmark,” Burlington Free Press, June 5, 1995.
  • Bernard Severance,  “THE RING BARNMODEL FACTS.” Prepared by Greta E. Severance, November 1994.

Posted by Holly Brough

May 14, 2021

Comments

Bernie came most summers to check the model and make any repairs he found necessary. The opening in the bottom of the model allowed children and adults alike to tuck under and pop their heads inside the barn to see it as it was in all its splendor. It is truly a gift that has been part of many a tour.
I have had the opportunity to visit the breeding barn several times and viewed with awe this beautiful model. It is truly a work of art and a testiment to Bernie's skill and dedication in creating this and that of those who built this barn and those working on its restoration to insure it and Bernie's marvelous miniature endure for generations to appreciate and enjoy.
Bernie was also in the Service with Elvis Presley who offered him a job as his Photographer for $10,000.00 per year back in the 50's but Bernie declined to go back home to be with family.
We’re life long friends of Bernie. We will truly miss him. He was so proud of his barn when he finished it. For someone who didn’t know the first thing about building, he did a fantastic job. Enjoy the barn everyone! He told us so many stories of being with Elvis in the Army. We have copies of his pictures with Elvis.

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