18 June 2015 – You’ll look at this & think,”Oh, she’s taking us back to Wisconsin, showing us another of those ‘barn quilts’ she discovered in the American Mid-West.”
Except I’m not. This is right here in Prince Edward County (PEC), in south-eastern Ontario.
Well, who knew? But isn’t it always the way: you learn a new word, & suddenly you see it everywhere. Same thing with barn quilts: I discover the phenomenon in their American Mid-West birthplace — & several weeks later they’re all around me on my side of the border.
Much credit goes to Pat Dubyk, a now-retired school librarian and County artist. She jumped on the idea when her horticulturalist husband Ron came back from judging Communities in Bloom entries in south-west Ontario, reporting he’d seen barn quilts in the area, and didn’t that seem like a natural project for their own County?
That was in 2012. Pat tried a first experimental board (above), which still hangs on their property, and began rounding up support. By 2013, the first quilts were in place, and PEC had become — to quote their barn quilts website — “the newest community to become part of a North American network of rural art.”
Now it’s 2015, and you can follow a trail to discover 80-plus quilts throughout the County.
Credit not just to Pat, of course. Also to Ron; to the Ontario Barn Quilt Trails association, which they joined; to the Trillium Foundation for its grant; to local farms, schools, businesses and individuals — and to the volunteers who do the painting (except for those which people paint for themselves).
This particular morning, two veteran volunteers are up to their elbows in masking tape & paint pots: Audrey Tomik (left, below), a Victoria B.C. resident who summers here each year & now makes barn quilts part of her summer; and Gail Henderson (right), who recently retired as a local high school art teacher.
Both Pat & Gail did very early quilts with school classes. Pat got grade-school students working on a design for CML Snider Public School in Wellington. Result: “Pioneer Patchwork.”
“Every barn quilt design is based on a genuine quilt block pattern,” says Pat. “Then you adapt. With the children, you may tweak their ideas a bit, but it’s still collaborative.”
I find I have to adjust to the scope of this project. I’d first been excited to see barn quilt panels around the County, but then slightly wary. Shouldn’t they only be on barns? Is the idea not somehow … um, compromised … to encourage art galleries, shops, schools, churches, and anybody else to arrange for one as well?
Then I learn that barn quilt trails first began in Ohio in 2001, driven by someone who deeply loved the art form, but funded as an economic development & tourism project. I accept that ideas have to be free to evolve, to find their way to live & breathe in their own era & local environment.
And I hear about the criteria. “We don’t do logos, ads, slogans, billboards, pictures,” says Audrey, laughing. “We make barn quilt art.”
So off we go, Leslie, Susan (Mme Chauffeur, thank you Susan) & I, to drive around the County and check out the barn quilt trail.
Well! We see the range. There is “Bee Creative,” at Love Nest Studio & Gallery near Bloomfield …
and “Stained Glass 1” on the Wellington United Church hall …
and the “Wellington Gazebo Star” in the community park next door …
and “Wellington Charmer” on the Home Hardware outlet on the town’s main street.
The building has several more as well, and I’m not surprised. Pat has already told me that Home Hardware is a very good supporter of the project.
All fine, very appealing, great community stuff, wonderful to look at — but I’m still just a wee bit twitchy. It’s not personal, is it?
Then we visit another commercial establishment, Fields on the West Lake, near Bloomfield. With not one but two barn quilts, quite magnificently displayed.
That’s “County Apples” on the right, next to the signage for their Blooms on West Lake shop, and “Henry Family Quilt” on the left.
I talk to the young woman. “That was the pattern for a family quilt,” she says. “And now, look, there it is on our barn.” I comment that she must really enjoy seeing it up there. She sparkles me a big smile before getting back to her tasks of the day.
So I have to soften my attitude. The barn quilt can be attached to a commercial enterprise, and still have a great deal of personal meaning.
And even when there may not be a personal story, why not enjoy it anyway? (I do, after all, enjoy urban street art!)
So when we three stop for a mid-afternoon treat in Bloomfield, I am totally happy with “Butterfly Blues” on the café wall.
Next down the main highway just outside Bloomfield, past “Sztuke Windmill” on the Sztuke family’s barn …
before we take to a County road for a very special farm indeed.
This is Wilhome Farm, which has been worked by eight generations of Williamses, over the last 201 years. (Oh I know, if you’re reading this in England, eight generations is nothing much. But here in North America, it deserves a salute.)
The barn quilt is the “Williams Star,” explain Anne & Don Williams on the quilt trails website. It has one star for each generation, and a colour for each element of their farm world: “green representing the land and crops, red representing the buildings and animals, blue representing water and rain and yellow representing the sun.”
Nearby, in another Williams family front yard, “Hole in the Barn Door.”
The next day I’m out exploring again, this time solo, in a slightly different part of the County. I stop at Small Pond Arts outside Picton, to admire “Grandmother’s Fan #1.”
I talk to Krista Dalby, one half of the artist couple who own the studio. She tells me she painted this one herself — well, she is an artist! — to honour the quilt created by her maternal great-grandmother. “It was always there in my childhood, then it disappeared, and then it reappeared thanks to my sister.” The fabric quilt is pretty well in tatters by now, she says, but from it she could rescue the quilt-block design and create her barn quilt. (For more about Krista’s barn quilt & about Small Ponds Arts, visit her blog.)
“My husband is Macedonian,” she adds. “He is going to create a barn quilt design based on a family quilt of his own.”
I drive past one more example, “Swirling Star,” on a barn down by Milford. No commercial outlet that I can see. It’s just there. Settling nicely into place.
I think about what the two women told me of old family fabric quilts, now reborn in MDO board & paint. I think about what Pat told me, all the stories she hears as she contacts people about the project, all the personal history now being brought to life around the County as a whole.
The Trillium Foundation, says the PEC Barn Quilts Trail website, supports these trails in Ontario “as a way to tell community stories.”
Yes! That is exactly it. We also benefit — we who drive by & take photos — but the real value is within the community, whose stories are being gathered & made tangible in a whole new way.