Following The Quilt Trail

photograph from the North Tennessee trail by Suzi Parron

Last week Noah Adams produced an excellent piece on NPR’s All Things Considered that discussed Tennessee century farms — both the history of these families and their uncertain future. Mr. Adams journey to these farms followed the North Tennessee Quilt Trail, one of many such trails throughout rural America. 

The barn quilt phenomenon began in Adams County, Ohio in 2001, when Donna Sue Groves set a painted plywood “quilt” on her barn in honor of her mother Maxine, an accomplished quilter. What followed was the Adams County Clothesline of Quilts, a 105 mile circuit that now includes dozens of barns. As Ms. Groves developed this trail–and a movement gathered around the artform–the practice blossomed into a force that both sustained the community and brought in lots of folks to wander the trail and engage in some agritourism. This has led to the formation of regional, and even national, communities of barn quilters; almost a decade later, one would be hard-pressed to drive through many rural counties without having your journey annotated by a few of these quilts. 

An internet search demonstrates how widespread this new artform has become, and how many local rural communities are seeing the wide array of benefits inherent to the art of barn quilting. Suzi Parron, a writer and high school English teacher, has partnered with Ms. Groves to tell the story of this movement in Barn Quilts and The American Quilt Trail, set for publication by Ohio University Press in 2011. Ms. Parron maintains an excellent blog documenting her book-writing process and her travels to barns across the country. 

Below is a video that tells another angle of the story behind these barn quilts. Here, the producers behind The Hardest Year visit Ms. Groves, who is now undergoing treatment for breast cancer. In the face of challenges so painfully common for many Americans in the last few years — job loss, illness, mounting health care bills — the community that Ms. Groves helped to create is now reaching to offer their support and friendship.