If you’ve ever spent any time driving down county roads, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across a barn quilt or two. If not, you’re probably wondering what it is, and why would a barn need one.
In the days when many historic farms were being built, rain water leaking into the barn was a big concern. Hay piled high in the mows needed to stay dry to feed the animals through winter. The solution was a very high, sharply sloped roof.
Between the cupola on top and the outer door to the upper level loft, there was usually a large empty space on the front of the barn. It’s much talked-about and highly-disputed when and where, but eventually someone decided that space needed something. Typically measuring four feet or eight feet square, the barn quilt is a decorative feature hung in just such a prominent space.
Having an infinite number of options, families decide which likeness and colors will best suit their structure. Perhaps they’ll choose an image that represents a tradition for them. The Tesch family of Mayer, Minnesota has been on their farm since 1867. In all those years, there has always been a flower garden. They selected and painted a floral tribute to the tradition, calling it “Grandma’s Flower Garden”.
Other options could be to honor a family member. Perhaps it’s someone’s favorite color or hobby. To honor a Veteran, you may see a block of patriotic colors or parts of the flag. There may be a nod to someone’s occupation or even favorite model of tractor. And, of course, it could be a home that’s housed a long line of fabric quilters, and their barn quilt is a favorite pattern.
“Take an enjoyable ride through the countryside looking at art and history”
Some 4-H and FFA groups use the production of the wooden squares competitively and have them judged at state and county fairs. Others may sponsor and paint a barn quilt as a community service project, which would be a great way to encourage historic preservation. One Madison, Wisconsin group used them as a fundraiser, selling small, medium, and large blocks for barns, sheds, or even garages.
The idea of a barn quilt tour is said to have begun when Donna Sue Groves of Manchester, Ohio fulfilled a promise to her mother, Maxine, to brighten up their family’s structure. Not only did she stick to her word, in 2001 she and a group of her friends painted and hung twenty of them. The trail movement took off and has enjoyed a modern resurgence, spreading to every state in our country.
In 2011 Naomi Russell was inspired by the Iowa trail and brought the concept to Carver County. Spanning west to Norwood Young America and east to Chanhassen, north to Mayer and south to Belle Plaine, there are currently 40 barn quilts in the county. You can find a map to play tourist on your own, or hop on the bus for a one-of-a-kind tour. Either way you’re in for an enjoyable ride through the countryside looking at art and history.
Roxanne is a freelance writer, fiber artist, and thirty year survivor of the hospitality and tourism industry. She is also a Commissioner on the Economic Development Authority in Watertown, MN.