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Ken Burns 

Filmmaker Ken Burns speaks at SNHU

MANCHESTER — The concept of a barn as a home for Ken Burns began with a piece of paper and a crayon at the age of 6, the award-winning filmmaker told the Timber Framers Guild during his keynote address at the group’s conference at Southern New Hampshire University on Sunday.

“A very crude idea of what a barn could be if people lived there,” was how Burns described the drawing that would provide him the inspiration for what would become his barn/home in Walpole.

Burns said he’d found the drawing in 2001 while sifting through his father’s belongings after his father died.

“Suddenly something awoke in me. It was very powerful,” he said.

He invested a modest sum of money his father left him. It climbed to “gargantuan” heights and he withdrew his money in 2008 shortly before the financial collapse of that year. He contacted Ted Benson, whose company, Benson Wood Homes, built Burns’ barn.

Benson introduced Burns at the conference, calling him “America’s truth teller.”

“In film after film, Ken has been telling us the truth,” Benson said of Burns, whose documentaries have featured baseball, prohibition and the Civil War and biopics, including one on the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Burns said his approach to filmmaking was inspired in part by the meticulous nature of architecture.

Burns said he viewed architecture as “the most important of the arts,” as it, unlike film, music or painting, is “always with us” in the form of buildings people occupy.“American history is a loud, cacophonous, exquisite collection of voices that in the aggregate often combine to make the sweetest kind of music I know,” he said.

But he said he wanted to focus not just on larger-than-life figures, but those often not heard from in history’s tomes.

“I became interested early in my life in the power of history,” Burns said. “Not just the power of the stories from the top down, but also the bottom up.

“I wanted to wake the dead,” he said.


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