Barn Quilts: Blazing a Trail of Artistry, History, and Community
By Roxanne Nickolie: Nancy’s Notions guest blogger
Barn quilts are a growing phenomenon in the United States and Canada, forming trails of roadside art—and scores of heartwarming stories—all across North America.
Author Suzi Parron explains that a barn quilt is “a replica of a quilt block painted on plywood, usually eight-by-eight feet, and hung on a building for a passerby to see. Most of them are mounted on barns, so they are called barn quilts.” Each block is chosen for a reason specific to the creator/creators. They stand as an impressive way to tell stories that pull entire communities together.
The “official” tradition of barn quilts is a short one, starting with Donna Sue Grove’s Ohio Star tribute to her mother in 2001. This initial block quickly expanded into creating an entire trail of barn quilts, which would help to bring attention to local artists. This new goal was supported by many others: “everyone thinks of agriculture and the men hard at work; we wanted to recognize the women’s role and remind folks that we have always produced art as well” said Belinda Holland, a Kentucky resident with her own barn quilt proudly on display.
On a beautiful October day in 2001, the quilt trail dream came true and the very first barn quilt, Donna Sue’s vibrant Ohio Star block, was unveiled in Manchester, Ohio. Nichola Moretti, a member of the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, described it as follows: “I remember people lining up for pictures like enthusiastic kids lining up for school photos. It spoke to us. Standing on that mountaintop with all of those people—there was not a dry eye. I knew I was looking at a legacy.”
Nichola wasn’t wrong. Today, over 7,000 barn quilts trail across 48 states and into Canada. Farmers, woodworkers, homemakers, artists, and masses of volunteers have gathered rain or shine, paintbrushes and nails in hand, to commemorate the treasured stories and beloved members of their community.
For road travelers, the barn quilts bring a welcomed touch of artistry to the landscape. They give the eye a break from the scrolling fields, dotted forests, and bounding hills that go whizzing by. But that’s not all.
Suzi Parron, author of the fascinating memoir Barn Quilts, best describes the appeal of these artworks in her book: “standing alone in a strange place, four hundred miles from home, I felt that I belonged and was welcomed… It was as if I had family scattered throughout the countryside, waiting for me to come by.”
See the first barn quilt ever made, and read more captivating stories in Suzi’s book, available now at Nancy’s Notions.
Thanks for the guest blog, Roxanne.
I recently interviewed Suzi Parron on Sewing With Nancy. Learn more by watching the interview.
Bye for now,