Fiber Art & The Quilt Barn Trail

The United States has a long history of quilt making, in fact, the history of America, itself, can be reflected in its quilts.  From early settlers who patched together blankets from scraps of material out of necessity, to the elaborate quilts of the 1800’s that became family heirlooms, to quilts designed to celebrate national pride in recent years, quilts, indeed, are part of the fabric of America.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that quilting has continued to evolve and progress.  In 2002, for example, the quilts of Gee’s Bend were discovered and made famous through exhibitions in museums, TV and radio programs, and several books.  What made these quilts so popular was their bold geometric simplistic, albeit, modern style.  Because Americans now have access to new ways of sharing, designing, and working with material and fiber, it is clear that the popularity of the Gee’s Bend quilts was just a sample of what was yet to come.

What is Fiber Art?

Fiber art includes quilting, weaving, embroidery, rug hooking, doll making, wearable art, knitting, beading and crochet.  Although these crafts are nothing new, the methods of engaging the materials and ease of accessibility have advanced and launched a surge of interest and creativity.

The Chicago School of Fusing is one example of how fiber arts have changed in recent years.  It was founded in 1997 as a way to teach “the fine art of fusing to a few forward thinking art quilters.”  They now host extensive classes throughout the world.  Fusing a quilt is done without a sewing machine.  The artists normally use hand-dyed fabrics that they fuse together with an iron, then embroider by hand, and add beads or other materials to build texture and dimension into their designs.

Robbie Porter of Batavia, Ohio, began working with fiber art after she retired from teaching art.  She creates bead embellished art quilts, cloth art dolls and more using such methods as fusing and sewing with an embroidery/quilting sewing machine.  Robbie is a member of the Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists Guild, and her dolls were published in doll and quilting magazines from 2003 to 2007.  She describes herself as, “…an artist who is fascinated by texture and color.  The integration of beads into my art quilts has become my passion.”

In recent years Robbie has combined her passion for quilting with her teaching skills, and teaches classes in fusing and quilt art at a community art school.  Kathy Leone, owner of the Village Art House in Batavia, Ohio, soon found that not only were members of the community interested in Robbie’s quilts, there was tremendous interest in quilt barns and the quilt barn trail.

What is the Quilt Barn Trail?

The quilt barn trail began in 2001 when Donna Sue Groves decided to honor her mother, a quilter, by painting square quilt designs on 20 barns in rural Adams County, Ohio.  Most of the quilt squares in the country are painted by hand on plywood, measuring 8-feet by 8-feet, although some are painted directly onto the wallboards or other materials such as steel or aluminum.

At the beginning of  2011, the quilt barn trails consisted of more than 3000 quilt squares displayed in 27 states, making it possible to drive a trail through rural America and spot the quilt designs on barns along the way.  The barns have increased tourism and enhanced community pride as the trails now give historic barns new life and showcase local history and culture.

How to Become Part of the Quilt Barn Trail

To get a map of the quilt barn trail near you or information on how to purchase a quilt barn board for your property, contact americanquiltbarns.com or a community operation, such as Kathy Leone’s Village Art House, in Clermont County, Ohio.  Each state has its own theme and choice of designs and sizes of boards.  Once a decision is made, the board is ordered and, in the case of Clermont County, the juvenile court system supplies the labor to paint the boards.

Don’t have a barn? Don’t worry. You can still decorate your property with quilt designs. Ms. Leone put a quilt board on the side of her historic home, enhancing its beauty and charm while bringing interest to the community. Because of the easy availability of the quilt board in Batavia, other village residents have hung the boards on garages and old buildings and barns, often secluded on their property, for their personal enjoyment, creating a patchwork of beauty on the landscape of America.

Sources:

Quilting In America.com.  History of Quilts, An American Folkart

Cincinnati Nature Center.org. Contemporary Quilt & Fabric Artist Quilt Show 2011

Quilt Art.com.  Gallery:  Robbie Porter

American Quilt Barns.com.  Quilt Barn FAQs

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