Barn quilts attract local interest

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Taylor County's quilt trail features 12 barns.

By Leslie Moore



It started in Ohio more than 10 years ago with a woman's simple dream of honoring her late mother, Maxine, an avid quilter.

It didn't take long for Donna Sue Groves' idea of painting a quilt block from one of her mother's quilts on the family barn to capture the attention of quilting enthusiasts across the country.

"It took off like wildfire," Marilyn Clarke said. "Everybody wanted one on their barn."

Clarke, former executive director of the Taylor County Tourist Commission, helped bring the "Quilt Block Design on Rural Barns" project to Taylor County in 2008. Taylor was one of six Kentucky counties to receive an $1,800 grant from the Kentucky Arts Council to hang six quilt designs painted on 8x8 plywood.

Clarke said the purpose of the grant was to add another attraction for tourists by taking advantage of Taylor County's agricultural landscape. Guided by a colorful brochure that was also paid for by the grant, motorists can take a driving tour of Kentucky's Quilt Trail.

Taylor County has 12 barn quilts on the trail, one of which is displayed on Clarke's barn on Smith Ridge Road. Modeled after a quilt her mother made while expecting her, Clarke named her quilt "Virginia Pike" in her honor.

Smith Ridge Road is also home to "Blazing Star," its bright blue displayed against a red barn on Bernice and Billy Rainwater's farm. Bernice Rainwater said when she and Billy heard about the project, they wanted to have one. While she said she never learned to quilt, she loves quilts and her grandmother and mother-in-law were excellent quilt-makers.

"My husband's mother had cancer and passed away with it so we thought it would be good to do it in her memory," Rainwater said.

The Rainwaters decided the barn needed a little sprucing up before the quilt was hung so they repainted the barn to help the quilt show up better.

Clarke said this is another advantage of the grant, because the barn quilts motivates people to maintain their barns, which often have an interesting history of their own.

Although grant funding for more barn quilts isn't available now, executive director of the Taylor County Tourist Commission Alisha Nelson said she frequently receives calls from people in the community wanting to know how they can get their own barn quilt. For the artistically inclined, Nelson said a quick Google search will result in several tutorials for making a barn quilt.

Although the quilt blocks are large, Christina Hicks, art teacher at Taylor County High School, said, the project isn't so intimidating if a grid is drawn out on the surface.

"It's not a free hand-drawing thing ... I have students who can paint really well but the quilt blocks are more like a paint by number project," Hicks said.

Under Hicks' supervision, students in the TCHS Art Honor Society also make wooden barn blocks as a fundraising activity.

Connie and Larry Barnes let Hicks choose all the colors of their barn quilt named "Delectable Mountains" that hangs on the barn behind their home on Elk Horn Road. It was funded by the grant.

"It didn't matter to me, as long as we got one," Connie Barnes said.

The barn quilt features shades of blue and yellow to stand out against the gray backdrop of the barn.

Hicks said the students are trained to use computer software that shows customers what the quilt will look like on their barn. She said the program also helps determine which colors look best against the barn.

As far as how long a barn quilt will last, Hicks said she can only speak for the ones she and her students have made. But according to Hicks, those first barn quilts they made look the same today as they did back in 2008. She said the type of paint used to paint the wood claims to last for 20 to 30 years. The total cost for a painted 8x8 barn block is $350.

For those who prefer a metal barn block, Don and Walt Swafford of Swafford Signs are also available. Don Swafford said using aluminum instead of wood will ensure maximum longevity of the barn quilt.

Swafford said customers can choose whether their barn quilt is hand-painted or covered with a vinyl printout.

"Most people prefer the vinyl," Swafford said. "It's a little neater, I guess, and it may last longer."

Both types are covered in a clear film to protect color vibrancy. He said the aluminum barn blocks will last at least 10 years and probably longer depending on the weather and how the sun shines on them.

He said there is no need to purchase a quilt pattern book. He encourages anyone interested in having a barn quilt made to visit the Taylor County Public Library. There are several quilt pattern books available for check out.

He said he can also upload the pattern onto his computer so the customer can see what it will look like on their barn and then customize the color choices.

Swafford said the price of each barn quilt varies but they generally cost around $500 or less. He can also hang the barn quilt for an additional fee.

Rainwater said there have been several people to stop and take pictures of her barn quilt and it's not unusual to see two or three cars in one day. She hopes people will enjoy seeing the quilt for years to come.

"We travel a lot and we just watch for barn quilts everywhere we go, it's just something to do and there's so many pretty ones out there."

For more information about Taylor County's Quilt Trail and to pick up a free brochure, call Nelson at 465-3786 or visit www.campbellsvilleky.com.

Nelson said she welcomes anyone in the community who has a barn quilt to contact her to have it added to the quilt trail.

To order a custom made wooden barn quilt from the TCHS Art Honors Society, call Hicks at 789-6808.

To order an aluminum barn quilt, call Swafford Signs at 465-7820.