by Rebecca Shea
If you’ve ever driven through the rolling hills of Neversink and Grahamsville in Sullivan County, you have probably spotted squares of bright geometric patterns punctuating the landscape—on the sides of barns, houses, and even businesses in town.
At the turn of the millenium, southern Ohio native Donna Sue Groves, an adviser for artists and art organizations, came up with an idea to honor her mother, a talented quilter. She would paint a quilt square on the family barn to honor her mother’s passion, quilting. This concept lead to the Ohio Quilt Barn Project and eventually the establishment of a trail of 20-plus painted barn quilts through southern Ohio’s Adams County. Word spread of the route sightings and soon both locals and tourists began driving the route.
For nearly 15 years now, the barn quilt movement has been knitting together rural communities across the USA. Neighbors across the way, ‘round the corner, and over the hill are coming together through this artistic project that unites two popular symbols of bucolic American heritage—barns and quilts.
The historic quilt squares are painted on plywood and mounted on barns, so that people driving by can enjoy the sight. ‘Eye-poppingly gorgeous’ [sic], these large geometric murals celebrate the art and culture of pastoral America. Driving trails have been established to link barns in neighboring communities that display the quilts. There are at least 43 quilt trails in the USA as well as two in Canada. And those numbers are growing fast.
“When this started, I knew it was going to be something,” says Groves. The idea continued to spread throughout Ohio and then onto the rest of the United States. Thanks to the grassroots efforts of artists, community groups, scholars, as well as local and regional government and agencies, barn quilts and the quilt trails have become a new and exciting experience that successfully places art within the landscape.
Belenda Holland owns a farm in rural Kentucky. Her family’s tobacco barn is adorned with a gigantic, yellow quilt block painted with two rows of pink, red, blue and purple triangles, forming the Flying Geese square. She explains the personal significance of the barn quilts in the fabulous book, Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement by Suzi Parron with Donna Sue Groves. Holland says, “Everyone thinks of agriculture and the men hard at work; we wanted to recognize the women’s role and remind folks that we have always produced art as well.” Every barn and every quilt square has a story to be shared.
The age-old craft of quiltmaking is continually transforming, as materials and aesthetic change. It is the same bold American spirit of ingenuity present in barn quilts that is also expanding the rich textile quilting tradition.
In New York State there are at least ten counties with established barn quilt trails. Counties include Albany, Orleans, Oneida, Genesee, Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and the Catskill’s own Sullivan County.
The Sullivan County trail is located in the southern foothills of the Catskill Mountains near the Rondout and Neversink reservoirs. Named the “Barn Quilts of Neversink“, this trail traverses approximately 65 miles and rolls through the towns and hamlets of Grahamsville, Neversink, Curry, Willowemoc, and Claryville—all of which have country shops and restaurants to complement a scenic day trip.
“Barn Quilts of Neversink” is a project of Neversink Renaissance—a beautification and community development program principally funded by Sullivan Renaissance and the Gerry Foundation. Since its inception in the fall of 2006, the “Barn Quilts” concept has yielded a total of 75 barn quilt panels which have been placed on historic barns, outbuildings, freestanding displays and area businesses in the large Town of Neversink. The colorful 8×8- and 4×4-foot quilt panels were designed and painted by local volunteers and barn owners.
David Moore of the township of Neversink says, “The Barn Quilts of Neversink Project has encouraged visitors to explore our rural countryside and property owners to repair and upgrade their barns, and has helped to create a new identity for our township.” Indeed, barn quilts trails promote community pride, create agricultural tourism opportunities bringing visitors to rural areas, and boost local economies.
As our national culture has shifted over the decades, we have come to rely less and less on our immediate community for sustenance and, accordingly, the boundaries of community have become vague. Projects like the barn quilt movement sew a very visible thread throughout towns and neighborhoods, which proudly boast that here in this area, there is still kinship and camaraderie.
Please remember on any quilt trail, use caution when slowing down or stopping near a site. Stopping on busy roads can be dangerous and illegal. (Locals rarely do this.) All Quilt Barn sites are located on private property. They should be viewed only from the road unless otherwise indicated at the site location or if that site is a business open to the public. If it is get out and stay awhile.
To learn more about “Barn Quilts of Neversink,” view quilt photos and to print out maps of the trail, visit www.townofneversink.org.