Barns adorned by quilts
As the Barn Quilt Heritage Trail-McLean County started making headway on its project, someone said to Kay Henrichs, a Barn Quilt Heritage Trail committee chair and Bloomington resident, “it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise a barn quilt.” Henrichs said, laughing, “Yeah, that’s true.”
When Henrichs and her friend Karen Gottlieb took a bus tour to Kankakee and saw the barn quilt tour in that area, Henrichs said, “McLean County has got to get on board.” When they returned, Henrichs attended a Barn Keepers meeting, an organization that hosts an annual barn tour to promote appreciation and preservation of barns, where she met Jo Morrison, a barn quilter and local farm owner.
When Henrichs and Morrison started talking about the project in November of 2011, Henrichs brought in people and organizations from the community to form a committee; organizations such as the McLean County Historical Society, David Davis Mansion, Barn Keepers, Bloomington-Normal Visitors Bureau and the Hands All Around Quilt Guild. With people from so many backgrounds and community projects on the board, Henrichs says there is a nice tie to the agricultural and historical heritage of the community.
Gordon Ropp, a former Director of Agriculture in Ill., 4-H Club leader, Sunday school teacher and active community member, attended a Barn Quilt Heritage Trail meeting and volunteered to recruit barn owners for the project. He told the committee that he thought he could get at least 10 barns to commit to a quilt, so he started with the first place that came to mind, his brothers farm, Ropp Farms in Normal. From there he followed the Barn Keepers tour booklet and arranged for 10 barn quilts to be mounted on barns just northwest of Normal in the Danvers and Carlock area. Many of the barn owners that Ropp visited were excited about the project. He says, “they were all happy to participate.” One barn owner had already been thinking about constructing a quilt for their barn, as well. Ropp says the barn owners were all welcoming and pleased to show off their barns and businesses. “These people are proud of their farm and their operation and are willing to display it in the form of a barn quilt,” he says.
Each quilt is 8 ft. by 8 ft. and is made with two 8 ft. by 4 ft. sheets of exterior grade plywood that are primed and then taped off and painted with the design and colors of the barn owner’s choice. Henrichs says most patterns are geometrical and some quilts have included things such as the head of a Jersey cow or an alpaca to highlight the barn owner’s business or family heritage. When the quilt is framed and finished, it is taken to the site, hoisted up with ropes, and then screwed into the structure by volunteers from Corn Belt Energy using bucket trucks.
A few barn owners had to fix up doors or add a coat of paint to the barn before putting up the quilts, so it “helps barn preservation too,” says Morrison.
The committee has installed three barn quilts so far and plans to have eight more constructed and mounted by the end of July. Brochures for the tour, featuring information, locations and a history of each structure, are in the works and Henrichs says they will be available at the Oct. 13 kick-off event for the tour at the David Davis Mansion. A poetry reading will be held at the event featuring local McLean County poets. The committee has also made 2 feet by 2 feet quilts for display at local businesses that will be auctioned off at the event.
The group has a five-year plan for the project with a goal of constructing 10 barn quilts a year and each year they will highlight a specific area to be added to the tour. With 11 barn quilts planned for this year, they are right on schedule. Henrichs and the committee are excited to illuminate both the agriculture and the quilting heritage in McLean County, as well local artists who have volunteered their time for the project.