Community of craftspeople rally behind barn raising

June 12, 2018

MORRISTOWN, Vt. (AP) — It was a tough winter for Thea Alvin.

On Dec. 18, 2017, life changed overnight for her and her partner Michael Clookey.

“So the fire happened in the middle of the night. It was three in the morning when Mike woke up . looked out the window,” she explained. “And I woke up hearing his raspy voice. He couldn’t get the words out. And I continue, even to this day to repeat the words, ‘the barn.’ And he couldn’t say more and I woke up because he said ‘the barn’ and I looked at him and his face was glowing.”

Glowing from the refection of flames sparked by an electrical fire.

“The flames were 60 feet in the air over the top and you just - manic, frantic,” she said.

They threw on clothes and tried to get everyone out.

There were people who rented rooms in the rambling farmhouse and animals in the barn and other outbuildings.

The people were safe. The animals were not. There were goats, guinea fowl, chickens and a rabbit.

Ali Baba was discovered under a piece of roofing in Micheal’s destroyed studio. The rabbit suffered burns, but survived.

Only the rabbit and two chickens survived.

“So we had those three animals that lived,” Alvin said. “And we lost 10 goats. Four of them were babies that were born here on the farm. And we were at their birth and, you know, touched them every day, and loved them, and lost them.”

The property damage extended beyond the barn.

“So we lost a third, a fair third, of the house,” said Alvin. “It was a timber frame that burnt, and it was 10 feet away from the barn. And the barn was completely destroyed. And the area that used to be a chicken coop was completely destroyed, and that we had converted into a studio for Michael’s artwork.”

In addition to housing animals, the barn also served as storage space and an art gallery.

You see, the property was more than Alvin’s home and farm, it was an artists’ community.

These two baby Angora goats, Prince and Phoenix, are among the newest additions to Thea Alvin’s farm.

“We were seven people before the fire,” she explained. “And we’re a small art colony so that everyone shared the house and had studios and made their art. The cost of living was low for everybody. And now it’s two of us, and two dogs and three goats and unknown quantity of chickens and six ducks and a rabbit and some fish.”

Throughout early June, those numbers have temporarily swelled, with houseguests and tents popping up around the yard. They are woodworkers, here to hand-hew beams into a new timber frame barn.

Alvin is a stonemason and she works with natural builders all over the world. When she asked for help building a barn, they came.

Alvin greets Liz Johndrow, who came to help from Nicaragua where she teaches workshops for women on natural building.

“So the tribes are gathering.” she said, “We have two people coming today, a woman has come in from Nicaragua, a man is driving from southern Illinois. We’ve already received a girl from Switzerland who lives in Italy. And a friend is coming from Hawaii. I (have) people from Ohio and Massachusetts.”

Partly because Alvin’s farm is historic and visible - right on Route 100 near the Morrisville-Stowe airport - her local community has been moved to pitch in as well.

“It’s devastating for me as the homeowner, but you don’t really realize how important an iconic structure in the community is until it’s gone,” she said. “And the amount of people who have stopped and grieved with me, you know, in the driveway. They don’t know me, they just understand. They get it that this is devastating. And now, they have an opportunity also for themselves to heal.”

While she says she’s still afraid of fire, that doesn’t stop Thea Alvin from sparking her outdoor pizza oven to feed her construction crew.

While her community of builders from around the world has gathered, Alvin’s local community is pitching in to help feed them. They’re dropping off food, lending grills, and just stopping by to show support.

Starting Friday, June 15, Alvin expects about 100 volunteers on her farm as the barn is erected. There’ll be general laborers, painters, cooks and even musicians. And if you have some time to spare, she’d love to see you too.


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