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Quilt barn trails now in 16 states add new color to fall. Grassroots art movement now appears on 900 barns.


The idea to paint the favorite quilt square pattern of her mother on the family barn has lead to Donna Sue Groves becoming the unofficial leader in a grassroots art movement that now appears on over 900 barns in 16 states.


What was meant to be a simple tribute to the heritage of Nina Maxine Groves and her love of quilting has been adopted by rural communities as a way to honor the craft of quilt making and farming expressed through public art.  Many barns are part of  “quilt trails” that map over 20 barns per trail that sightseers can follow and enjoy.


The full story is below.  Low res images are attached.  I have plenty of high res images from several states.


(I am a freelance writer with over 400 articles in publication in 15 papers and magazines.)


Jim Winnerman


416 Conway Wold

St. Louis, MO 63141

314 434 3478



Quilt barns add new colors to fall foliage


Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio had a noble idea. She wanted to paint her mother’s favorite quilt square, the snail’s trail, on their tobacco barn.  It was meant to be a meaningful tribute to Nina Maxine Groves’ heritage and the five generations of her family that have shared a love of quilting.


In 2001, friends volunteered to help bring the idea to reality, but the conversation turned instead to creating a trail of “quilt barns.”  Local farmers quickly endorsed the idea and donated space on their barns. The needed funds were raised, and soon the first of 20 different multicolored quilt patterns (there are usually 20 squares in a quilt) began appearing on Adams County barns like newly planted spring flowers. 


Now, over 900 quilt squares grace barns in 16 different states, and more are being painted every summer. Ohio, Iowa and Kentucky have over 250 in each state. Wherever they appear, most are the result of a county initiative that combines several quilt barns to form a trail like the 105-mile route created in Adams County


Groves traces the origin of her idea for a quilt barn to when she would sit next to her brother in the back seat of the family car on long road trips. To keep her children occupied, Mrs. Groves would award points for spotting different types of farm barns, and then she would explain the purpose of each style.  The colorful hex signs popular on barns in Pennsylvania were a bonus worth 50 points, she recalls.  “They were important because I always wanted to beat my brother,” she says.


Today her mother’s educational game has led to Groves becoming the de facto counselor to most quilt barn initiatives.  She travels the country to give guidance and encouragement to the burgeoning grassroots art project.  All she asks is that everyone understand the idea was to honor 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 Colonial times. 


Roy Settle, with the Appalachia Resources Conservation and Development Council in northeast Tennessee, oversees 70 quilt barns covering six counties.  ”We have always seen the way a farmer crafts the landscape in the field,” he says.  “Now, quilt barns let us appreciate the artistry of the wife, and a quilt barn symbolically marries the two.”


Patterns used on a barn are selected for a variety of reasons.  In some counties the square represents a quilt that has historical significance to the family that owns the barn. The quilt pattern on the Dykes barn in Washington County, Tennessee, for example is from a quilt made by a Dykes relative about 1900.


Other patterns, like those along the three separate 50-mile loop trails in Athens County, Ohio, have been selected to represent a local historical tie.  A square on a late 1800 barn is the “corn and beans block” representing local produce that has always been sold at the county farmers market.


The barns are painted in a variety of manners.  Some communities hire local artists, and others are painted by clubs or high school art classes that seize the opportunity to volunteer to help create public art.  Frequently a business with a truck with a hoist donates the crew and equipment needed to place the square, which is usually painted on two 4x 8 sheets of outdoor plywood attached to a frame.


Quilt barn trail committees select farms based on a number of criteria, including the appearance of the farm. JoAnn May, a professional Ohio artist who has p
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