Article by Gary West,  March/April 08 Issue of the Country Register

Early spring is often the best time to travel and see some of the best scenery in Kentucky.  Trees are not yet in full foliage, still allowing travelers to peek at some of the state’s hidden gems.  Many of these vistas you see most definitely add to the experience.

Quilts and old barns.  You don’t get much more Kentucky than that.  And now there is a program underway across the state that combines both.

Over the past several years, scattered here and there with little apparent organization, old barns painted with quilt patterns on their sides, began to appear.

Because of this new form of self-expression and grass root pride of rural residents, this cultural art-form has taken on a life of its own.

“It’s like hanging a painting in an art gallery,” said Dianne Simpson, a fiber artist, in Knox County in southeastern Kentucky.  “But with quilt barns, the whole community becomes an art gallery.”

Judy Sizemore, regional outreach director for the Kentucky Arts Council in eastern Kentucky, is directly involved in coordinating along with other agencies efforts to select quilt patterns to be painted and then recruiting barn owners to provide the “canvas” for the eight-foot by eight-foot squares to be displayed.

To further point out the cooperative effort of those involved, Sizemore says that farmers now have a new reason to care for their barns, and that even companies are volunteering their bucket trucks to help hand quilt squares on the sides of the barns.

The Quilt Barn idea evolved out of Ohio several years back and has spread to, not only Kentucky, but West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Iowa and North Carolina.  Although the program is more developed in eastern Kentucky, there is an aggressive effort underway to get on board in the western part of the state.

The Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah has plans to develop a quilt trail in their area.  Because of this world-class museum, Kentucky enjoys a national reputation as the center of traditional and contemporary quilting.

Cheryl Cook of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention and Visitors Bureau, pointed out that innovative quilt painters in the Pennyrile region were using metal to provide a longer life span for their quilt patterns.

Another positive aspect to this unique project is that it can and does involve local students who paint the quilt square or volunteers.  Other volunteers record the oral history of the quilt maker whose pattern is being painted, with a goal to someday provide an audio narrative for driving tours similar to those used in other tourism-related driving trails.

Sizemore says some 35 counties now have something to see, with the most being in Elliott County area where about 60 barns can be viewed.

“Ashland has what they call Quilt Alley,” she says.  “They have painted flood walls and free standing structures as well as barns.  It all began with barns,  but now has spread to other structures.”

Quilt Barns have pretty much spread on their own, from community to community, quilt block by quilt block, to where there are now over 100 already painted.  The number is sure to grow, and soon.

The Quilt Barn Trail hopefully will soon have its own brochure, map and website; much like the state’s other themed trails like the Country Music Highway, Bourbon Trail, agri-tourism, history and arts and crafts.

The Kentucky Arts Council hopes to bring the state closer together as well as make available start-up grants to bring more communities on board.  Interested parties can contact their local tourism organizations or email Judy Sizemore at circuit@prtcnet.org

There’s no excuse.  Get up, get out and get going! 

Pennyrile Resource Conservation & Development Area, Inc.
3237 Eagle Way
Hopkinsville, KY 42240
(270) 885-8692
For more information, contact us.

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