The five faithful continue to produce beautiful heirloom quilt designs to grace barns, pool houses, out-buildings and even garages throughout the countryside of Daviess County.
Joyce Brown, Leslie Carlisle, Lelia Gaines, Lynn Heady and Jackie Snow meet twice weekly, Mondays and Fridays, in donated studio space at Owensboro Grain’s Office building, to design and paint brilliant quilt patterns onto square boards of varying sizes.
The largest quilt this group has produced is visible to passersby traveling Second Street and motorists crossing the Glover Cary Bridge; the colorful 16-by-16 foot painting of a mariner’s compass with the RiverPark logo in the center hangs on the east side of the RiverPark Center. According to this jovial group, “It took FOREVER—a long time to complete.” They started in November and the quilt was finished in June and hung in July. Since they coordinate their painting schedule with the Daviess County Schools’ calendar, the extensive number of snow days last year delayed their progress throughout the winter.
No repeat color patterns are used, with the exception of those hung at Panther Creek and Yellow Creek Park. That pattern depicts the American flag, which originally had 15 instead of 13 stripes. The painters donated these quilt paintings, which have plaques placed alongside them explaining the history of the flag to park visitors. Kentucky was the 15th state, and that flag’s 15 stripes represented each of the 15 states in the Union. Another quilt pattern depicting the Soap Box Derby was donated to Ben Hawes Park. In Eastern Kentucky, the barn quilts are being incorporated into school art departments, teaching the students about the historical significance of quilting.
The concept of painting quilt patterns on barns began in Ohio in 1989 with Donna Sue Groves’ desire to honor her mother’s Appalachian heritage. Her dream was to get 19 more squares painted for a sampler quilt trail, as 20 squares typically complete a full quilt. That dream has been extended through the efforts of these ladies and an estimated 15-20 others which have created more than 150 quilt paintings since organizing in 2010. Forty-two of the 50 states have quilt trails. The Ohio County painters taught this group the process of barn quilt painting and the group has paid it forward by teaching other groups.
From its inception, barn quilt painting has promoted a three-fold purpose: to preserve quilting; to encourage the preservation of old barns; and to promote agri-tourism. Kentucky is home to about 800 painted quilts.
The whole process begins with a call to the Daviess County Extension Service (270-685-8480) to request a barn quilt. Either the requestor submits an original design or selects an established quilt pattern for the project. Then they meet with the barn quilt painters to sign a contract, choose colors from a paint chart and pay according to the size of the quilt: 1 x 1 = $50, 2 x 2 = $75, 3 x 3 = $100, 4 x 4 = $125, with the largest size, an 8 x 8 = $300. Prices include four colors of choice, plus white. Next, the pattern is transferred to a paper grid and colored. This paper pattern is used to draw out the design in pencil onto the metal boards. Each color is painted separately and “taped off” from the next color before painting. Joyce is the “master taper,” according to the other painters. Taping is an extremely tedious step which requires great precision. Sign paint is used to provide vivid colors that will withstand the assault of extreme weather conditions over time. Prior to delivery, the quilt is given an extra coat of protection via automotive car wax. Upon completion, the quilt is delivered to the customer. (Husbands generally lend their assistance in this step.) Next, the Daviess County Road Department is contacted to request their assistance in hanging the larger barn quilts, which require heavy-duty equipment like a bucket truck.
What prompted these ladies to become involved with a project of this magnitude? Joyce had seen quilts in Scott and Elliott counties on their barn quilt trail, so when she found out this group was organizing, she jumped to join them. “I was at a retired teachers meeting where they had a craft fair. Lelia was there selling the notecards (depicting various barn quilts in the county) and was commenting on the cards. Lelia explained what the group was doing and said, ‘Oh, you need to come sometime,’” Leslie said. She did just that, and has been helping ever since.
Jackie knew that Lynn was into toile painting and asked her to join the group. “I went to the first meeting thinking it was just about barn quilts, not realizing they were painting, and I’ve been going ever since. It’s just a passion,” Jackie said. “Each quilt has a story and some of those stories are very special,” she explained.
“I am not a craft person. I don’t quilt, don’t sew . . . don’t do anything. I went with Jackie to the first meeting and I thought this might be something I could do,” Lelia said. Her co-workers quickly acknowledged that Leila is very good at what she does.
Sources of inspiration come from grandmothers’ quilts, parents’ wedding quilts, quilting magazines, farm activities, or the Internet. Many of the barn quilts reflect what that farm is known for, such as the farm’s name or what it produces. Just recently, a bride commissioned the group to paint a double wedding ring barn quilt in her bridesmaids’ colors. The quilt was originally hung in McLean County, where she married on her grandparents’ farm, but it is being moved to a Daviess County farm where the couple will live (in Knottsville). The grandmother has ordered a replacement barn quilt, which the group will also be painting. Since McLean County does not have an organized group of barn quilt painters, the Daviess County group will provide the painting. Generally, the painters do not cross county lines.
This same group is responsible for the Barn Quilt Tour, which is held during the summer in conjunction with other key events such as the annual Quilt Show ($20 per person for a half-day tour). Over 30 quilts are involved in the 3-hour narrated tour—in either the east or west county. The painters receive no financial assistance from outside sources, and although there’s no expense to the painters, they generously give of their time. As a non-profit, any extra monies acquired during the fiscal year are donated back to other community groups like Puzzle Pieces, Mary Kendall Home, colleges, universities, 4-H and The Humane Society.
Presently, the barn quilt painters have several squares on the table: a quilt depicting messages for slaves fleeing the South to be hung at Owensboro’s Museum of Science & History, and a set of miniature quilt squares for the Fine Art Museum’s Holiday Forest Festival of Trees.