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I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Barn Quilts Offer Stories

Anyone who has driven the back roads of western North Carolina has seen the beautiful (public art) quilt squares gracing many of the old barns.  These often huge replicas of quilt patterns have been painted onto plywood supports and mounted for the simple pleasure of bringing a smile to travelers and neighbors.  I knew that Avery County had a flier that pictured the squares in our area with maps and stories about the patterns.  What I did not know is the back story to this wildly popular and fairly recent form of folk art.

barn off Hwy 221

The story starts with a woman named Donna Sue Groves who decided to decorate her barn in Ohio to honor her mother. Maxine.  She choose to paint a quilt square as her mother, an avid seamstress, had made many quilts.  Not long after she got it up, Donna Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer and soon after lost her job.  Friends and neighbors pitched in to assist Donna Sue and began spreading the idea of gracing more barns with painted quilts.  Somehow the idea caught fire and a grass roots campaign began that spread to Iowa, Illinois, California and Maryland.  The projects began to unite communities as they learned how to create the pieces.  All ages got involved and it became a vehicle not only to learn about ancestry and forebears but to spread a unique form of folk art throughout the countryside.  Donna Sue credits it with giving her a reason to live.  (Although she is a breast cancer survivor she is now, 4 years later, battling another kind of cancer and additional health problems).  Meanwhile, the love she wanted to share keeps spreading.

town of Banner Elk, blazing star pattern

People often chose their patterns based on color, family memories or subjects that held significance for them (stars, geese, wedding rings, trails, trees, mountains and so on.) Some even came up with new designs.

I don't have a barn but that did not keep me from wanting a quilt square for our home.  As western NC picked up the project Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County art groups taught folks how to design and paint the pieces.  A friend of mine, Heidi Fisher, became one of the "go-to" painters for local barns in our area. So of course I approached her about doing one for us.

Heidi and her work

A Ringling Art School grad, Heidi took to barn quilts like a duck to water loving the challenges of size and the precision of composition.  But where the artist really took off was when she was asked to design a custom, family-specific square that did not come from the reference books.  Her imagination and color sense could really come front and center.  So Heidi and I had a chat!!

Voila!  Ta-da! and Oh yeah.....

Heidi and my husband hanging our quilt 
"Bottles and Birds" last night on our deck

We spend a lot of time on our deck enjoying the myriad birds and dispensing with a lesser number bottles of wine.  Thus I asked Heidi to work with the theme of bottles and birds.  She asked our favorites (goldfinch and cardinal) our upholstery colors (gold, reddish) and wanted a photo of where it would hang.  Then I stepped out of the picture until she called to deliver.

Isn't it just the best?  I never, ever would have painted the background purple (actually "California Lilac" by Benjamin Moore) but it is so looks like the sky and really changes hue with the light.  Do you see the bottles and birds?  And Heidi says she tucked other little symbols in as well, I have found a "M" or two and enjoy studying the piece for more revelations.

close up

This is on a special board Heidi orders which will withstand the harsh winds and wet winters up here.  The finished size is 4 feet square and we are so very pleased with the results.  To give you some additional perspective, the first barn I shared above is one Heidi did on 9 panels, each 4' square.  She had to get the electric company out with their truck to help with the installation and then got to take a ride herself up in the cherry picker to paint over any dings or screws that could be seen after it was hung.

So my thank you to Heidi, dear friend and wonderful artist,  for making my wish come true and for inadvertently connecting me to a movement of love and art that is crossing the nation.  I may not have a barn but I feel a kinship with the local farmers who have taken the time to put this cheerful folk art on their's the kind of public art that brings a smile, lifts the mood and makes one whip lash around saying, "did you see that?"  Come on by and I will gladly share my bottles and my birds with you.

Feeling Lilac,


  1. Wonderful blog post. And I love seeing your deck and the beautiful quilt.

  2. Loved this blog Cindy, so informative and interesting. I just love your "quilt" Heidi did a great job. enjoy.


  3. Gosh! It is beautiful! Heidi really captured the essence for your deck! I cannot wait to see it live and up close! Yay!

  4. Would love to have all of you on the deck for a glass of wine and time to enjoy the quilt....I'm gonna love it for many years! Was a fun project.


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