Artful Living: Barn quilt trails bring color to NNY

If you have been out driving around the countryside lately, you may have noticed colorful painted squares on barns, houses, garages, public buildings – even sometimes along the roadside. If so, you have stumbled onto portions of an ever-expanding network of barn quilt trails in our north country. Barn quilts are public art inspired by quilting traditions, and they’ve become the basis of grassroots economic development in our north country. 

    In a nod to the inspiration behind them, most barn quilts feature variations on traditional geometric quilt patterns: log cabin, old schoolhouse, maple leaf, flying geese, and hundreds of other patterns. Some patterns, like pinwheel, are visually striking in their simplicity. Others, like the mariner’s compass, impress with complex geometry. There are stories behind barn quilts. Patterns are carefully chosen to reference community and family history, express connection to our rural landscape, and tell viewers something about what matters to the individual or group behind the barn quilt. 

    Barn quilts are an accessible art form, for both the maker and the viewer. Many of the barn quilts displayed on private property in our region were painted by their owners, usually after taking one of the workshops for beginners offered at several locations in our counties. Barn quilts on public buildings are usually painted by groups of volunteers, including students in the local schools, who form rich new friendships through a shared investment in making the north country a better place to live. Often, they learn more about the history of their communities through the process. 

    Here in the north country, the epicenter of activity around production and installation of barn quilts is St. Lawrence County, especially the towns of Hammond and Colton (https://www.northcountryguide.com/pages/barn-quilt-trails) , but you will see examples almost anywhere you go. Trail organizers believe barn quilts are an appropriate focus for tourism in a place where agricultural still accounts for a significant percentage of the economy, and there are still many active quilters. The committees of volunteers who create, promote, and maintain barn quilt trails aspire to foster civic pride, catalyze maintenance and revitalization of downtowns, and provide an opportunity to expand our region’s tourist economy. And they are having success. In response to demand, several new businesses in the north country now take orders for custom barn quilts and shops in the region, including TAUNY’s Folkstore, sell locally-made barn quilts. 

    This summer, TAUNY is working with partners in the region to organize and host a series of public Barn Quilt Parties to celebrate and promote our region’s barn quilt trails. These festive, family-friendly events will feature demonstrations of barn quilt painting and related arts, barn and traditional quilt displays, kids’ activities, live music, barn quilt and related vendors, and more ways to learn about–and share your own experience with–barn quilt making. For more details about these events and other barn quilt-related activity this summer, visit http://tauny.org/sections/4/calendar