“Growing up in West Virginia, Donna Sue Groves and her family would play a
simple game of counting the barn advertising signs, such as Chew Mail Pouch, See
Rock City, Seven Caves, Natural Bridge and Drink R.C. Cola on long road trips.
They would use the different styles of barns such as Bank, Round, Crib and
Tobacco as part of the automobile game. During vacations, she delighted in
watching for the colorful geometric Hex signs scattered throughout Pennsylvania.
Her family used barn watching as an opportunity for family discussions, a way to
pass the long hours riding in the car, and as a history lesson.”
When Donna Sue and her mother purchased a farm in Adams County, OH with a
tobacco barn, Donna Sue promised that one day she would paint a quilt square on
the barn for her mother who loved quilts and barns. Donna Sue, serving as a
Field Representative with the Ohio Arts Council, saw firsthand the power of
public murals. The empty barn walls she saw as she traveled throughout the
Ohio River Valley seemed an opportunity to create public art, foster community
pride, support community self expression and serve as a catalyst for economic
development as a tourism destination.
In 2001, Donna Sue finally painted that barn quilt for her mother. And
with one, why not more? Why not start a driving trail for tourists through
Adams County benefiting local businesses and artists? Why not engage
community members and celebrate the farming and quilting heritage of their area?
The idea caught on like wild fire as word spread to other communities who asked
if they could participate, much to Donna Sue’s delight. All that she asked
in return was that each new community remembers the purpose of her project – an
honor to her mother.
The reason for the rapid acceptance of the concept is the same wholesome
philosophy Groves envisioned at one time to be just a single tribute. The
squares not only honor the wife of every farmer where they appear, they also
recognize the rural heritage that has been a part of the fabric of America since
Today, there may be as many as 1500 barn quilts on barns and other significant
community structures in counties in Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio,
Maryland and Missouri with the intent of covering the states with a “Clothesline
of Quilts”. Although the projects may be similar in concept, each project
is unique in expressing the individual community values, vision, heritage and
culture. Each grass roots community project captures the spirit of using “art”
for community celebration and economic development.
Our local project began when a community member saw a barn quilt on a local
highway between Galena, IL and Hazel Green, WI. Intrigued, she started
making plans for her own barn quilt. She must have talked about the
project enough that her own adult children made her a barn quilt as a surprise Christmas gift.
This inspired her to start
a local barn quilt project so she contacted the Lafayette County Extension
Office in early January, 2008. About that same time, two other local women
had been to a quilting bee where they learned about a barn quilt project
starting in neighboring Green County. Another woman had learned of the Sac
County, IA barn quilts and wanted to make a smaller version, “a home quilt” for
her home. They all were excited about the prospect of spreading the project
throughout Lafayette County.
Lafayette County conducted a Needs Assessment in November, 2007. Stakeholders
were asked to answer questions regarding challenges the County will face in the
future. When asked, “What five challenges do you see facing residents of
Lafayette County over the next five years?” many respondents replied in terms of
working together to promote Lafayette County. Answers included statements
like “keeping towns vibrant,” “instilling a sense of pride in the county,”
“entice new residents and visitors to the county,” “maintaining the visual
beauty of the area and preserving its predominantly agricultural character,”
“tourism development,” “encouragement and support for artistic and cultural
ventures and events,” and “maximizing local potential.”
The UW-Extension Office, Lafayette County 4-H Leaders and Home and Community
Education (HCE) groups had long been discussing ways to work together on an
inter-generational, county-wide project. So in January, when the groups were
approached about the idea of a barn quilt project throughout Lafayette County,
they were enthusiastic at the opportunity to share and learn together.
Meetings were held with leaders to start laying out plans. By May 1st,
objectives were agreed upon, a logo chosen, committees formed (policy, finance &
funding, fair, production and publicity), local grants applied for, news
articles released, and one barn quilt was in production! What great
progress in such a short time.
The objectives of our project, Barn Quilts of Lafayette County (BQLC) are to
bring families and local organizations together to celebrate and promote the
culture and history of Lafayette County; call attention to the unique
architecture and history of barns and other buildings; promote quilting as an
emblem of area art, culture and history; stimulate economic development of our
rural communities; and increase the value of our rural heritage. As Donna
Sue Groves, the Ohio founder of barn quilts said, “The barn quilts are public
art that celebrates the place people call home. They make people feel good about
themselves and where they live.”
To accomplish these goals, we plan to develop two tracks for barn quilts:
1. The traditional track of strategic locations with potential funding; and 2.
An independent track for those who want to fund, build and paint their own.
To educate and involve Lafayette County community members, we will ask county
art teachers to have their students participate in a quilt square coloring
contest of selected quilt blocks picked by our committee; have a booth and quilt
block painting bee at Cinco de Mayo Days in Darlington, at the Lafayette County
Fair, June 25-29, 2008 - have a booth, and be actively working on at least one
barn quilt which will be mounted on a county fairground building and have an “I
Spy” for kids focused on finding quilt blocks throughout the fairgrounds; have a
minimum of 6 (six) barn quilts on display on buildings throughout the county by
year’s end; take advantage of opportunities to encourage barn quilts as they
arise such as a quilt show; and advertise the project with brochures placed in
businesses throughout Lafayette County and through a website.
We are modeling our project after successful projects in Iowa. BQLC has
purchased the Best Practices Manual developed by Grundy County, Iowa which has a
well developed barn quilt project. The official barn quilts logo has also been
purchased and trademarked as “Barn Quilts of Lafayette County”. Similar
projects have generated upwards of 50 county barn quilts within three to five
years – we foresee comparable results due to the local appeal and enthusiasm.
Success will be measured by interest generated in this project. The
Lafayette County UW-Extension office will work with a broad range of partners to
facilitate the project. Besides the Lafayette County 4-H Clubs, and the
Lafayette County HCE Clubs, potential partnerships include community
chamber-type groups, church organizations, local businesses, area school
districts, Center for Community Economic Development Specialists, UW-Platteville
(including Continuing Education, ArtsBuild, Local Fare, Communication Dept,
Industrial Tech Dept., and Pioneer Farm), Southwest Technical College, Blackhawk
Technical College, and interested individuals.
Quilts are a symbol of the heritage of our rural county. They provided not
only warmth and comfort, but a social opportunity and artistic outlet for
generations. Barns are recognized as rural assets and traditional farm
architecture. Barn quilts intertwine two historic threads of our rural
heritage. When quilt designs are painted on an 8' x 8' piece of plywood and hung
on a barn, they're enjoyed by everyone who drives by and carve new trails for
rural tourism. What better way to celebrate the culture and history of
Lafayette County than to bring community members and families together to create
their own Barn Quilts!
We are confident that these barn quilts will enhance the sense of community
pride felt by all Lafayette County residents. At the same time, the
project will serve to attract visitors
from other areas of the state and country into the rich farmland of our county,
to “go barn storming” and take advantage of the beautiful scenery, wonderful
restaurants, specialty shops, and other amenities the county has to offer. And
we will be a part of Donna Sue Grove’s long range hopes to create a "National
Clothesline of Quilts" stretching across the nation.
Phyllis Sonsalla & Mary Jo Stutenberg