barn quilts showcase
local art and history
rural art form gaining popularity
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(December 2007) Years ago, many barns featured
bright signs that aimed to entice drivers to roadside attractions and
tourist destinations, such as Rock City. Jamae Bray Pyles of Bedford,
Ky., noted that advertisements painted on barns used to be quite
something in the fifties and fell by the wayside.
Dryden makes quilts
to be mounted onto a barn.
Now a new art trend is attracting tourists to see the
barns. Many area farms now boast barn quilts and drivers seek the colorful
squares out to admire.
Barn quilting began in southern Ohio in 2001 when Donna Sue Groves created
the first one in honor of her mother who loved barns and quilts. Barn
quilts are large plywood squares painted in colorful patterns similar
to those seen on bed quilts.
Typically, barn quilts measure eight feet tall. As their popularity
has grown, smaller sized quilts have been crafted to fit utility sheds
and porches. The larger barn quilts require the use of a lift in order
to mount them in place.
In many communities, such as in Trimble County, Ky., electric companies
assist in hanging the quilts by providing equipment and employees to
set the quilt in place. Smaller sized quilts can be mounted by individuals
by hanging the squares from cables or mounting them on posts.
Over the past year the art form has appeared on several barns in northern
Kentucky and southern Indiana. Barn quilts tend to enter a community
in one of two ways.
In Madison, word of mouth has spread about the beautiful barn decorations.
Residents see a barn quilt and decide to add one to their own property.
In other areas, clubs and community organizations encourage the creation
of barn quilts as public art. Madison barn quilt artist Sara Dryden
says that during the past 14 months the Stamping Ground Homemakers
Club in Kentucky created more than 100 quilts. The Trimble County Extension
Council put up its first two this past summer and hopes to add two more
soon. In areas with an active quilting community, barn quilts find an
by Don Ward
barn quilt hangs at Bray
Orchards along U.S. Hwy. 42
just south of Bedford, Ky.
Dryden explains that a lot of communities have chosen
more rural type patterns to represent their heritage. The Trimble
County barn quilts feature designs popular during the era of the Underground
Railroad and recognize the communitys involvement in the freedom
movement. Project organizers hope that the quilts will encourage local
citizens to learn more about area history and take pride in the communitys
Another project goal is to attract tourists interested in seeing the
outdoor art. Communities in Iowa and Eastern Kentucky encourage driving
tours showcasing the barn decorations. Many in Northern Kentucky and
Southern Indiana hope to see similar programs in their areas soon.
Karen Wilson, a clerk at The Paint Depot in the Clifty Plaza in Madison,
notes that in comparison to large murals, barn quilts are an easier
medium that people can do themselves. The Paint Depot offers many
of the materials needed to go about creating the quilts, and has directions
for those who wish to paint their own.
The store also distributes artist contact information for those who
would prefer to work with a local painter. Many barn quilt painters
make use of patterns already familiar to those who love traditional
quilts, such as Jacobs Ladder and Double Wedding Ring. Dryden
suggests that those interested in adding a barn quilt to their property
take the time to find a pattern that fits in with their home and family.
Some chose a design that reflects a particular interest, such as a teacher
who selected a schoolhouse pattern. Others select a layout that echoes
a quilt sewn by an ancestor or family member. For those new to quilting,
pouring over the patterns and learning the history behind the names
is part of the fun.
Dryden along with her husband, John, and son, Jack, went through hundreds
of patterns over the past winter before selecting a stars and stripes
based pattern. The next step was cutting plywood into a square and sketching
out the pattern. Then the pattern was painted using exterior paint to
stand up to the elements. The square that hangs outside the family barn
was the first of 11 that Dryden has completed so far.
Part of the pleasure of hanging a barn quilt comes in knowing that it
gives enjoyment to others. Pyles is one of the owners of Bray Orchards,
where visitors can see a Bear Claw barn quilt painted in red, yellow
and green. Pyles said the Trimble County Extension Council approached
her about providing the location for one of the quilts as her barn can
easily be seen by those driving on U.S. Hwy. 42. She notes that the
barn quilt has been a good addition to the orchard as many passersby
stop in to ask for more information about it. Dryden, whose son Jack
watches for barn quilts during family drives, says, the more there
are out there the prettier the countryside.
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