Rock Creek Park echoed with hootin' and hollerin' Saturday, as more than 300 artists, friends and patrons of the Art Barn gallery, a nonprofit forum for local artists, braved the cool, clammy weather to support the gallery and have a wild western time at the third annual Dance in the Park.

Ignoring the elements, guests drank beer, wine and "hard likker" and chowed down on barbecued chicken, beans, potato salad and apple pie under brightly striped tents, hastily rounded up for the occasion.

"They lucked out, actually," said Paul Petrus, director of federal relations for the Mobil Oil Co., the first corporate contributor to the 11-year-old Art Barn. Petrus had knotted a paisley bandanna around his neck, and his wife, Jeananne, wore a beaded headband and a seersucker skirt. "It always rains at the Wolf Trap fund-raiser, when we're all in black tie. Today it doesn't really matter," said Petrus, nodding at the square dancers dressed in their eclectic western finery and jeans. Petrus said Mobil is about to launch a drive for corporate support for the Art Barn to take over the nearby historic Pierce Mill.

"Our Art Barn is too small. We've grown so," said Art Barn founder Polly Logan, after a dance with Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani. "If we acquire the mill we could have more sculpture, more weaving. We have children's classes and we would have a place to show their work. We are trying very hard to raise corporate funds so that we can carry it. And since we're almost entirely volunteer operated, it would be cheaper for us to run it."

"We're talking to Polly Logan about the Art Barn sharing in the facility, taking it over," said Jack Fish, director of the National Park Service, which currently owns and maintains the old mill. "There have been some budget cutbacks, so we can use their help."

After dancing to a four-piece band dressed as Raggedy Ann dolls, guests gathered for a fast-talkin' country auction. Two of the highest bidders were Dick and Ann Leahy, who bid $900 for a colorful western oil painting, "Into the Sun," by John Hilton, donated by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.). "We have a collection of Middle West and prairie paintings," explained Dick Leahy, who works with direct-mail marketing of insurance. "You know where I'm going to put it?" asked Ann Leahy, "right over the fireplace. I'll just move the David Hockney into the front hall." Other items auctioned included cases of champagne and chili, a Coors beer telephone, a Navajo blanket donated by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and a sculptural chair, called "White Bride," from western sculptor Altina Miranda, who has a studio here.