You have probably noticed a new fad of painting quilt squares on sides of barns around Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and other states. These are a part of the Quilt Trail Project that began in Adams County, Ohio, when Donna Sue Groves decided that she wanted a quilt square painted on her barn to honor her mother, a lifelong quilter.
Donna Sue and her friends decided that if they were going to paint one quilt square on a barn, they might as well paint 20 and create a driving tour to attract tourist to their rural community. The project became such a success that soon other communities were joining the project.
Today along the Kentucky Quilt Trail, images of quilts (barn art) now blossom as bright patterns on the sides of weathered barns and other buildings across the commonwealth. The project has spread as a grassroots movement with each community introducing its own twist, painting quilt squares not only on barns, but also on flood walls, craft shops, restaurants, and other prominent buildings.
At a meeting of the South East Kentucky Tourism Development Agency in Hazard earlier this year, representatives from the eightcounty Elk County Corridor discussed what they were doing in their respective counties. Representatives from Letcher County, including Sharman Chapman-Crane, Josephine Richardson, Bessie Shepherd and Ked Sanders, mentioned the very successful Festival of Quilts held at the Harry M. Caudill Memorial Library in Whitesburg in February. The agency had started an initiative a few years earlier to use barn art as another means of attracting tourists into eastern Kentucky, but the concept did not flourish. Because of the success of the quilt exhibit in Whitesburg, the quilt square flame was rekindled.
Now the entire eightcounty agency is starting a new initiative to capitalize on the concept. The objective is to give tourists a reason to come to the area and patronize our hotels, restaurants, craft shops and other businesses.
Some of the ideas proposed are: scheduling an eight-county cooperative festival of quilts through the area at the same time each year; providing marketing for handmade quilts; and promoting barn art using quilt squares as a common thread.
In recent months the Letcher County group has held meetings at the Letcher County Extension Agency building in Whitesburg and recruited people from throughout the county to promote the barn art project. Because there are very few barns in Letcher County, the group is looking at the possibility of installing the quilt squares on public buildings as well. Several artists, teachers and students have already volunteered and are excited about having their artwork displayed in prominent places.
The project is known quite simply as The Heritage Quilt Project and will involve people from various organizations coming together with a common goal. Our group will partner with individual property owners and businesses to provide a location for the artwork. Funding from various sources will be needed to purchase the materials including plywood, framing materials, and paint. In many cases we will need assistance from local utilities to provide a bucket truck to help install the signs.
One idea discussed is to involve the vocational school to build the signs, a mechanical drawing class to draw the intricate geometric designs and any of several art classes to do the actual painting of the quilt patterns. Currently, Letcher County trails some of the surrounding counties in doing our share of building the quilt trail.
What a wonderful medium for bringing people together from throughout the county and promoting our skilled artisans while promoting our proud heritage and our beautiful county.
For additional information on how you can become a part of this project, call Sharman Chapman- Crane at 633-5065 or Ann Bradley at 633-2362.