Friday, June 26, 2015

The American Barn Quilt Trail

    "There's another one!" my daughter exclaimed, and my husband obligingly pulled over on the soggy Oregon roadside so we could "bag" another barn quilt with our camera.  We were near Tillamook and had driven most of the day photographing and admiring barns and the colorful barn quilts that hung on them.  The quilts were decorative and artistic, and looking for them felt like a scavenger hunt through the countryside and small towns.

     While quilting itself is an ancient craft, barn quilts are an American tradition that began in Ohio in 2001.  A woman named Donna Sue Groves wished to honor her mother by creating an art project fitting of their Appalachian heritage.  She worked with the Ohio Arts Council after deciding to create an artistic quilt square to display on her barn.  The project quickly grew into a larger "sampler" of twenty quilt squares that could be dispersed on barns throughout the county and mapped into a driving trail.  Before their trail was completed, neighboring counties asked for help in establishing their own traditions, and quilt trails soon spread into Tennessee and Kentucky.  Today, there are quilt trails all over the United States, and thousands of barn quilts exist.  Montana's only established trail is in the Missoula area with fifteen squares and more in the works.  Fergus County has some documented squares but no organized trail.

     Barn quilts are painted on wood and mounted on the side of barns or buildings.  Unlike cloth quilts, barn quilts are usually a single painted square.  Barn owners choose patterns for a variety of reasons--sometimes they just like the geometric pattern or colors, but most often they choose patterns from beloved quilts that have been in their families.  Many communities have organized quilt trails with the help of service organizations such as 4-H groups, quilt guilds, or arts councils.  The Oregon trail we followed was a fun day event that included stops at a winery, some art galleries, and a few farm stands that featured barn quilts.

     We've come home inspired to create our own painted quilt.  I have an armoire that contains cloth quilts made by my great grandmother and others found on antiquing trips.  Now I just have to decide which pattern and colors will look best on our cedar-sided barn.  Who knows?  Perhaps our project will inspire others, and one day Yellowstone and Carbon Counties will have quilt trails of their own.

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