They make your eyes smile, these barn quilts. As you travel through the rolling countryside one appears - attached to an old barn, or store, or fence post, stirring a splash of homemade memory.
Regina Painter, Killen resident and traveling nurse anesthetist, first came upon these pieces of art as she assisted with surgeries across the country. “They were in 26 states, but Alabama wasn’t one of them.”
As a quilter, Regina fell in love with these unique compositions and was determined to bring them to her home state. When she did research, she found that not only do they bring pride to rural communities, but they’re good for business. A number of states have created quilt trails (Tennessee has 700 blocks up) that encourage entrepreneurs to open antique shops, farmers markets, art galleries, and other enterprises that tie into the quilt trail. Although originally brought to the colonies by German settlers, this art form gradually disappeared until Adams County, Ohio brought it back in 2001.
To get things going here, Regina contacted Bob Hood, Executive Director of Galia County Ohio Visitors Bureau. He said, “I’ve been to other quilt barn trails, and I have seen the impact that it can have on bringing tourists and people spending money.”
Regina’s next step was to get in touch with Joel Dickerson, head of the Lauderdale County Farmers Federation. Joel thought it was a fantastic idea. With his go ahead, Regina looked to Alfa and Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) for funding. They were generous with their assistance.
The project continued without a snag. She next contacted the University of North Alabama Art Department, hoping they had an artist interested in undertaking such a project. They immediately thought of Naomi Skye, a recent graduate with a B.S. in art.
“The blocks are treated plywood,” Naomi explains, “although some are done on metal. I drew out the design I wanted and then art students and I painted it with acrylic wall paint. It’s sealed with varnish.”
The blocks are usually 8’ square and are painted to look like a block of a bed quilt. Hence the name.
It was now time to find a spot to hang these works of art. Joel contacted Dee and Don Wade in Greenhill. They had restored an old barn that was visible from the road. They graciously agreed to allow their barn to be the first to wear Naomi’s art. With everything in place, all that was needed was a crew to affix it to the barn.
Karson Cupp, carpentry instructor at Allen Thornton Technical School, jumped at the opportunity. He said they’d been looking for a community project and this was perfect. So on a cool morning in early April he and his students arrived at the Wade Farm to attach the beginnings of the Barn Quilt Trail in Alabama.
Joy and Dallas Balch of Antioch are proud of the art on their barn. It’s an old barn built by Joy’s grandfather and designed to hold hay on the upper level and house cows below. It’s still doing that job today. The beautiful square was mounted by Mr. Cupp, Mr. Balch, and two Allen Thornton Tech students.
The third barn boasting quilt art here is on a barn owned by Charlie and Cynthia Thompson in Lexington. The barn was built in 1923 by Cynthia’s great-grandfather. It has three rooms – a large one in the middle with a loft and two smaller ones on each side. Apparently, the smaller rooms were used for farm implements and the larger one for livestock.
Regina says this is just the beginning. “We need barns, donations, and artists,” she said. “I love old barns. They bring me back to my country roots. In today’s environment the farm and our rural heritage are often pushed into the background. We can change that with Quilt Trails that promote agritourism, art, architecture, culture, and history.”