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Barn bling

Agriculture.com Staff 03/09/2008 @ 11:00pm

Decades ago, farm buildings doubled as open-air canvases. From 1900 to 1940, farmers were paid for the use of their barns as roadside ads to promote tobacco, feed, and grain products. Hundreds of barns on Route 66 beckoned travelers to Missouri's Meramec Caverns.

Today, quilt blocks are transforming barns into colorful local landmarks and carving out new trails for rural tourism.

After Mary Crawford saw the Iowa barn quilt blocks in Successful Farming magazine, her gaze fixed on a vacant hog house near the road on her Beaver Creek, Minnesota, farm.

"It needed a fresh coat of white paint first," she says. It took over a year to convince her husband, Clair.

Instead of a single quilt block, she painted 10 six-foot-square blocks on the building. "I thought it'd be fun if each had a farm theme," she says.

She worked on and off for two months, finishing in October 2006. "People tried to guess what I was doing," she says. "Now when I see a barn, I envision a quilt block painted in splendid colors for all to enjoy."

Emmett and Sandra Currans, Emmetsburg, Iowa, have adorned eight of their farm buildings with barn quilts. Can anyone top that?

USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) confirms a trend since the 1990s for the arts to migrate to less-populated areas, including small rural counties. ERS says this growth is tied to rural cultural tourism.

Barn quilts are one form of rural art. Artist Toni Grote created images for note cards showcasing the Barn Quilts of Sac County (Iowa). Sac County also has a 64-page barn quilt book. Grote, a Breda, Iowa, painter, specializes in rural and farm scenes. She markets her acrylic art on eBay.

Grundy County, Iowa, markets its barn quilt calendars, cookbooks, and bus tours. Washington County, Iowa, has 26 barn quilts. The Amish Loop is the first of four planned driving tours.

In Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky, the Appalachian Quilt Trail thrives with the wholehearted support of county arts councils and RC&D councils (www.vacationaqt.com). The Ohio Arts Council was an early booster of barn quilts.

The four Web sites listed below share an array of barn quilt patterns. Or visit www.quilterscache.com.

Colorful barn quilts can refresh the faded fabric of rural communities and create a visual family legacy.

Near Bronson, Iowa, a barn quilt celebrates the life of avid quilter Kathy Lidgett who died last July at age 57. Her husband Leo, daughter Amy, and sister Marguerite chose one of the 100 hand-quilted patterns Kathy had made over her lifetime.

She loved sharing her farm heritage and quilts. Her last quilts were made for her future grandchildren.

Decades ago, farm buildings doubled as open-air canvases. From 1900 to 1940, farmers were paid for the use of their barns as roadside ads to promote tobacco, feed, and grain products. Hundreds of barns on Route 66 beckoned travelers to Missouri's Meramec Caverns.

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