Buckeye State barns sprout quilt blocks

An Ohio Star quilt pattern is painted on this barn near Bethesda, Ohio, in Belmont County. Stretching beyond Ohio, the Quilt Barn Project has become a cultural tourism phenomenon across 26 states with 98 dedicated driving trails.

Two staples of American life — farmers and quilters — planted a seed a few years ago that has resulted in a bountiful harvest of quilt barns.

On a recent road trip through southeastern Ohio, my husband and I ventured off the congested interstate into the bucolic countryside of Belmont County to view firsthand a crop of barns that bear colorful 8-foot quilt squares on their sides.

We drove gingerly on unpaved roads and through some Buckeye State hollows to find these treasures. Cattle crabbed at us as we slowed to take photos, fretting that these strangers might disturb their grazing.

A tree cast its early morning shadow across a red schoolhouse quilt pattern at the third site, stubbornly forbidding us a clear view of the artist’s weathered wooden canvas. Across the road, a small pond of water shimmered in the sunlight.

Referred to as a “clothesline of quilts through Applachian Ohio,” the idea took shape in 2001 with a woman named Donna Sue Groves. As a field representative for the Ohio Arts Council, Groves started the Quilt Barn Project in rural Adams County.

It was a way to honor her mother — a quilter — and tie art to a craft that women have always done. Groves’ vision of painting quilt patterns on barns to lure travelers and spur the rural economy has grown to 500 murals across 21 counties.

Visitors from all over the nation drive and bike to enjoy these quilt trails. The patterns are traditional ones, such as Overall Sam, Americana Star and Flying Geese. Stretching beyond Ohio, the Quilt Barn Project has become a cultural tourism phenomenon across 26 states with 98 dedicated driving trails.

Quilt blocks are painted directly on barns or prepared on a separate wooden canvas, then installed on the buildings. Some farm families light the blocks at night, proud of their participation. Ideally, a quilt barn is visible every 5–10 miles along the trail.

Small-town chambers of commerce promote the barns through brochures and help with funds for painting the quilt blocks, which can cost $300 to $500 per barn. Sometimes, the blocks are painted at local festivals, where anyone can add a brush stroke.

Since our trek through rural Ohio, I’ve learned that these quilt trails extend into Colorado as well. Since 2007, 125 quilt blocks have blanketed various outdoor buildings in Morgan County. This is thanks to Nancy Lauck, a Fort Morgan quilting enthusiast who spearheads the Morgan County Barn Quilt Project.

Her own century-old barn was the perfect place to start, after Lauck discovered colorful quilt barns while traveling through Iowa to Wisconsin. She paints 4-foot by 4-foot or 8-foot by 8-foot patterns on plywood, which then are installed on barns, as well as on garages and some houses. The cost is $50 for the smaller blocks. (See photos and find a tour map for Morgan County barn quilts at mcbarnquilts. blogspot.com.)

It seems that quilt celebrity, author and teacher Eleanor Burns has jumped on the quilt trail hayrack, too.

She’s written a new book, “Quilt Blocks on American Barns.” It’s illustrated with barns of all architectural styles painted with blocks and includes patterns and instructions for quilts to be made from fabrics.

Burns is featured in the October/November 2010 issue of Quilt magazine with a colorful quilt — complete with a checkerboard border — from her book.

“The concept of a barn is really romantic,” she says in the article.

Don’t miss this romantic experience, whether it’s by driving country roads, sewing patterns from Burns’ book or viewing quilt barns online.

If you’re really enthralled, you might want to chart your days next year with a 2011 barn quilt calendar. Those are available, too, and I may have to put one on my Christmas wish list.

E-mail Sherida.Warner@ gjsentinel.com.


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