American folk art — Mail Pouch Barns
Mail Pouch Tobacco barns were once common along American highways and country roads. The barn advertising campaign was launched by the West Virginia Mail Pouch chewing tobacco company (Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company). The program ran from 1891 to 1992. In its height during the early 1960s, thousands of Mail Pouch barns were spread across 22 states.
Initially, barn owners were paid between $1 and $2 per year for the advertisement. In 1913 dollars that equates to $20-$40 today. More importantly, the barn received a fresh coat by a team of painters. The Mail Pouch message was painted on one or two sides, depending on road visibility.
With the passing of time Mail Pouch barns are slowly disappearing from the landscape. The remaining barns with the familiar advertising slogan, Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco, Treat Yourself to the Best has become American folk art.
SIGN PAINTER LEGEND
While several men painted the iconic slogan on barns for the tobacco company, Harley Warrick is the best known. After returning from World War II in 1946, Warrick helped on the family farm. Shortly thereafter Warrick saw a man painting a sign on his father’s barn. When asked by the painter if he was looking for a job, Warrick said yes. He joined on the spot and started earning about $32 a week.
Over his 55-year career, Warrick painted or retouched over 20,000 Mail Pouch signs. Warrick and a partner traveled together, sometimes sleeping in the back of a pickup truck or cheap motel. The partner painted the black background and Warrick lettered the advertisement. They were able to paint two barns a day, taking about six hours per barn. The pipe-smoking Warrick was known as a salty character. When queried about his work, Warrick responded, “I don’t paint barns, I paint signs on barns.”
Warrick’s work has been exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution. Additional fame came to Warrick when he appeared on Good Morning America and On the Road with Charles Kuralt. Warrick was commissioned by TV newsman Ted Koppel to paint a barn on his Cross Manor historic estate in St. Inigoes, Md.
In 1971, Warrick painted a Mail Pouch sign on a building for the movie, “Fool’s Parade.” While painting the sign in Moundsville, W.Va., Warrick met actor James Stewart. Warrick told Stewart about a sign he painted on a building for his father who lived in Indiana, Pa.
Art Seaman, who resides in Shelby, Ohio, became friends with Warrick. Through this relationship and admiration, Seaman became an avid collector of Mail Pouch memorabilia. Seaman explained, “I attended an event at Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas, Ohio, in 1988. At this annual gathering, I saw Harley Warrick paint three large Mail Pouch Tobacco signs. The signs were auctioned as a fund raiser in support of Malabar Farms. Subsequently, I gained an appreciation for Warrick’s work and began collecting Mail Pouch mementos that he had painted,” Seaman shared.
A Seaman-Warrick friendship flourished through the years. Warrick was unable to attend Art and Myrna Seaman’s 20-year wedding anniversary. Myrna had previously requested a special wall-mounted red enamel barn replica. Red enamel was not a normal background color used in the Mail Pouch barn advertisements. Warrick surprised the couple by presenting Myrna’s requested replica following their celebration.
When Warrick passed in 2000, a club was formed to preserve his legendary accomplishments. “The club became known as Mail Pouch Barnstormers. Members are spread over 15 states and Canada. The club holds an annual picnic in Warrick’s home community in Belmont, Ohio,” Seaman noted.
Mail Pouch folk art lives on through the Barnstormers Club and remaining barns throughout the country.
Hendricks was a resident of Colorado for 32 years. He now resides in Mansfield, Ohio, his home state. Hendricks covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.