A New Old Rural Art Practice
Traditionally in spring I find myself planning for an upcoming vacation from the daily grind of whatever job I have at the moment. Over the last few years my vacations have centered around noted locations for wildlife photography, another of my passions. After deciding where I wanted to travel I started doing some research to find out what interesting things I could discover on the way to and from my destination. Visiting the visitor's center in the adjacent state, I came across a brochure mapping out the locations of "Barn Quilts" in a county I could include in my mapped route. The pictures displayed in the brochure reminded me somewhat of the old Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, but quite different at the same time. There is some disagreement about who created the first modern barn quilt, but all agree it was in Adams County, Ohio in 2001. Since 2001 there has been a rapid growth in the number and locations of quilts.
The similarities between the hex signs and quilts are locations where they are found , use of geometric shapes in the patterns and they hold some meaning. In the hex signs a number of patterns have an agreed upon purpose. A few examples are doves or birds of paradise usually mean peace or welcome, an eight pointed star goodwill and a 12 pointed rosette referring to life after death. The quilts may have little or no meaning to anyone other than family and friends of those displaying them. However traditionally quilts symbolize family, comfort, community and heritage. Some colors used in the patterns may refer to birth stones of family members, or be a design that has personal meaning to the family. The traditional barn quilt uses an eight by eight foot piece of wood, and those appearing on barns today are normally that size, though I have seen some larger. Those on corn cribs and outbuildings are four by four feet and on homes two by two feet square. Originally their purpose was to signify buildings having some historical or cultural significance to the community. Today many are adding the quilts to their rural homes for no other reason other than they enjoy the art style.
With the rise in popularity they are rapidly becoming a tourist attraction in over twenty-eight states and two Canadian provinces. In the regions where the quilts have become popular their locations and routes to travel to view them have been painstakingly mapped out. In the few short months since I discovered the brochure on one county's quilts two more brochures on other counties, with maps released by the state. The website http://barnquiltinfo.com/ lists states with quilts found within their borders, just click on the state or states you're interested in for further information.
Once you see a quilt, and another you'll find spotting them becomes addictive. After returning home from my trip I posted several of the pictures I took to an online photography group I'm a member of. Several members there decided to travel in their local areas and discovered some as well, and now all of us pay special attention to rural buildings looking for more quilts. The county to my north released a brochure on theirs not long ago, and last week I spent a day traveling throughout the county viewing the ones listed as well as looking for new ones.
All Photos in his article ©2011 SJ Saladino