WELLS, Maine — Amid the clam shacks and ice cream stands on Route 1 in Wells, an 1890 barn painted slate gray is a snapshot of Maine’s agricultural past. Look closer.
Bright poles and colorful, linear sculptures dotting the grass outside the Corey Daniels Gallery signal to passers-by the mod menagerie to come.
The barn door — a large, glass entryway — leads you to a collection of antiques and art casually propped up for creative browsing. It seems to be random, but it’s not.
Walk through this room filled with vintage chairs, dressers, mirrors and assorted objects and enter one of the most unique aesthetic spaces in Maine.
Bold paintings invigorate the walls in the soaring chamber of the Corey Daniels Gallery. A display of cast and painted bronzes are laid on tables with a discerning curatorial eye. There is much to explore, but the biggest draw is not the upcoming exhibit of the latest hot painter in Portland — it’s the barn itself.
“There is nothing else like it in Maine,” said Daniels, who bought the barn and attached 1815 farmhouse more than 20 years ago to house his growing antiques business. In 2006, he expanded, opening the gallery.
In its past lives, the once-rural barn served as a lumber yard and part of a family farmstead. Mighty logs passed over what is now Route 1 from a mill to be sliced into dimensional lumber. Wood from this barn, Daniels was told, was used to build the grand hotels of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.
Outwardly, the 19th century barn hardly is changed from those days, save a few sculptures on the lawn. The classic structure still shoulders the seasons. Inside, a modernist spirit prevails.
Daniels has gone to great lengths to mask its rustic essence in some areas while accentuating its “nutty brown” presence in others. In 2006, when the Wells resident expanded, he gave the barn a transformative update and radically simplified the interior spaces.
The barn’s great scale was emphasized by sheathing the interior — beams, walls and ceilings — in raw plaster. He added skylights, which opened up the loft above the main gallery and flooded the barn with natural light. Pouring concrete floors was a way to give the space, which had been an antique shop since the 1970s, a lift.
“It was a massive undertaking,” Daniels said.
He’s done such a good job creating a clean, modernist gallery that art-goers often are fooled.
“Many people come in and ask, ‘What did this building used to be?’” Daniels said. Only a handful guess it was barn.
“They are intrigued. Even though they may not like or understand what’s in here, universally they like the space,” Daniels said.
Some people go to great lengths to take barns back to their natural, hand-hewn state. Then there are people like Daniels. As a minimalist with a focused eye for clean design, the artist eschews decorative flourishes for clean, geometric planes meeting crisply without clutter.
Exposed beams and boards are engaging, but if you are trying to find art, a neutral space works better so you can see the intricacies of works. Daniels has isolated the barn’s telltale beams. “There is a lot of structure in these barns, big beams underneath.”
In the back, he added large glass doors that open onto a courtyard. In the summer, a sultry ocean breeze blows through, he said with pride. Mismatched posts painted white and covered in galvanized sheet metal give the gallery a uniform look. The soaring space invites contemplation.
“I don’t like moldings,” Daniels, who has heightened the lines to let the barn’s geometric shapes speak for themselves, said.
But he does like antiques. Salvaged doors from a municipal building in upstate New York are complemented with bronze handles from Harlem to make an intriguing, stately entrance to his gallery.
Sandwiched between the highway on one side and the railroad on the other, the location works for Daniels. “Some people come in and say, ‘I would never want to live on a railroad,’” Daniels said. “But I love the sound.”
And that modernist tone echoes through this old barn, which provides a sturdy framework for the next century streaming toward us.