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Barn Quilts in Rural America

Thelma is an award-winning writer living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She enjoys writing about rural America, especially Appalachia.

"Summer Sunday" Barn Quilt in Monroe, Wisconsin

Located on the farm of John and Amy Bartlett

Located on the farm of John and Amy Bartlett

Beauty of Barn Quilt Art

Bright and colorful quilts are covering barns across the heartland of America. No, these are not the fabric quilts that grandma used to make that looked so beautiful draped across her four poster bed. These unique works of art, known as barn quilts, are quilt squares made of wood and mounted to the sides of barns and other farm buildings.

Predominantly found in rural areas, barn quilts are meticulously designed and hand painted by craft hobbyists as well as artists who are making a living selling barn quilts.

Barn decorating dates back to the 1800's when the Pennsylvania Dutch painted hex signs on their barns. The small colorful patterns were of traditional folk art designs. They were thought by some to be talismans for good fortune while others displayed them merely for decoration.

The barn quilts are not only a delight to view, but the fun starts with the "thrill of the hunt" to find them!

How to Find These Pieces of Art

Much like the recent interest in the sport of geocaching, quilt barn hunting is really catching on. It has become a hobby popular with traditional sewing quilters as well as people that don't even know how to sew.

To aid in the scavenger hunt for these unique art forms, quilt trails have sprung up in over 30 states and 2 Canadian provinces. These quilt pathways were the brainchild of Donna Sue Groves of Ohio who, in 2001, placed a wooden quilt block on her barn as a tribute to her mother, an avid quilter. She then organized a community project in Adams county which resulted in 20 barn quilts being displayed along a driving trail, now known as barn quilt trails.

You might ask, "What is the difference between a barn quilt and a quilt barn?" The quilt barn is the name for the barn that has the painted wooden quilt attached to it. The wooden quilt is known as a barn quilt. Makes sense, doesn't it?

"Grandmother's Pride" Pattern Features the Color of Each Grandchild's Birthstone

Pattern: Grandmother's Pride located on a farm in Juda, Wisconsin

Pattern: Grandmother's Pride located on a farm in Juda, Wisconsin

"Rooster" Pattern: A Small Version of This Pattern Can Be Used as a Kitchen Decoration


This Artwork Brings a Surge to Rural Tourism

Quilt barn trails have encouraged a surge in rural tourism in many areas. The trail organizers provide tourists with self-guided trail maps and GPS coordinates to locate the quilt barns. This gets visitors off the beaten path into areas which would not normally be frequented by out of town guests. The result is exposure for gas stations, motels, restaurants, and other businesses along the way. Many times, tourists return for repeat trail visits to enjoy the countryside and see quilts that are added to the trail. Tour buses provide group trips for a day in the country viewing the pastoral scenery and the beautiful barn quilts.

Read More from WanderWisdom

Another economic benefit that has come out of the barn quilt craze is the formation of "cottage businesses" that make and sell barn quilt squares. One such venture is Heritage Barn Quilts of Chesterfield, Missouri. Owner Karen Parrish makes her quilts out of wood in a variety of sizes and patterns or she will paint a custom order in a pattern that you provide. Karen says, "Many people have a quilt pattern that is meaningful to them and want it duplicated to honor a special person or time in their lives".

"Sunflower" Pattern Displayed in Brodhead, Wisconsin

Located on the farm of Doug and Laura Zettle

Located on the farm of Doug and Laura Zettle

Trail in Green County, Wisconsin

One example of a county taking advantage of barn quilt tourism is Green County, Wisconsin located on the Illinois Wisconsin border. Lynn Lokken of the Green County Barn Quilts Committee explained they are proud that they still have many small family dairy farms and want to promote their agricultural area to tourists.

The group of volunteers paint wooden quilts and seek farm owners willing to donate the space to hang the art where it is visible from the road. They have developed criteria for the structure to be eligible to host the quilt and the committee makes the decision as to where the quilts will be located.

Many Green County businesses and residents have sponsored the quilt trail program through monetary donations. In exchange for their contributions, the donors are recognized on the group's website and on the trail maps. According to Lynn, it typically costs $250 to make and install one of their barn quilts.

If you can't visit Green County in person, stop by their website where they feature each one of the quilts from their trail along with location addresses.

"Cornucopia" Pattern on Barn in Argyle, Wisconsin


"School House" Barn Quilt in Blanchardville, Wisconsin

Located on the farm of Dean and Rae Reeson.

Located on the farm of Dean and Rae Reeson.

Not Just Art: A Signature of Rural America

Barn quilts have certainly redefined the term "public art". They not only are a kaleidoscope of color but they also exude a certain nostalgic charm with their quaint names such as Star Puzzle, Farmer's Daughter, America's Pride and Tumbleweed. Each one you find gives you the urge to find the next one. They appear out of nowhere on quiet country roads like a beacon of color beckoning you to stop and take the time to "smell the roses".

Please Participate in this Poll About Barn Quilts

Slideshow Featuring More Beautiful Barn Quilts

Questions & Answers

Question: How do you find out where the trail is in Arkansas?

Answer: Go to It has alot of information that will help you.

© 2012 Thelma Raker Coffone

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