AMES, Iowa--Barns inspire the imagination, as witnessed by 4-H entries at the 2006 Iowa State Fair and renovation/preservation projects cropping up across the state. Barns also have been giving a boost to the Iowa economy through tourism.
Visitors to the State Fair 4-H Exhibits Building found a barn-shaped doghouse and wall display shelf, barn photographs and artwork, toy barns and reports of barn restoration. But perhaps the most noticeable evidence of youthful fascination with barns was shown by the huge barn quilts, especially one star pattern in brilliant crayon colors.
The big star barn quilt belongs to Madelaine Miller of Boone County. She made one like it , only larger, for her grandparents’ barn, which her grandfather has restored. A member of the Boxholm Blazers 4-H club, Madelaine worked with her grandmother to select the pattern and paint the barn quilt on plywood.
Miller was inspired by the work of Kevin Peyton, the rural Sac County youth who showcased his 4-H project, Barn Quilts of Sac County, at the 2005 Iowa State Fair with Gov. Tom and First Lady Christie Vilsack. Peyton went on to win a Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student scholarship and a national Prudential Spirit of Community award for his project work. Sac now sparkles with 35 painted plywood barn quilts and a tour map that takes the visitor through every town in the county (see www.barnquilts.com).
Peyton, a freshman at Iowa State University (ISU) this fall, credits the Grundy County barn quilt project as his inspiration. Grundy County began its project in 2003, after Pat Gorman, a field specialist for ISU Extension, brought the idea home from a conference. She had heard Donna Sue Groves of the Ohio Arts Council speak of a project in Adams County, Ohio, which had brought tourism to the economically depressed area.
Bill Arndorfer, ISU Extension education director for Grundy County, said one reason barn quilts enjoy local grassroots support is that “there are a lot of quilters around who have a strong interest in quilting and anything related to quilting as well as many barn owners who are willing to cooperate by making their barns available for the display of the quilt blocks.”
Arndorfer said they discovered that people will “drive down country roads to look at quilt patterns because they are unusual, something that can not be seen just anywhere and for some, it’s a trip down memory lane.”
A drive along U.S. Highway 20 brings the motorist into barn quilt counties starting at Sac on the west or Grundy on the east. In between those counties, two more -- Hamilton and Hardin -- have 4-H’ers pursuing barn projects.
Blake Meyer created a barn quilt patterned after the quilt that his great-great grandmother made for the birth of his grandmother in 1920. The barn quilt, called the LeMoyne Star, is now displayed on his father’s family farm in Hamilton County. In Hardin County, 4-H and FFA youth have used Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to map historic barns in the area.
Drive south one tier of counties to find other barn quilt projects taking off. Besides Miller’s blue ribbon barn quilt from Boone County, visitors can see another blue ribbon winner, the Four H Patch, created by the Greenbriar 4-H club of Greene County. Greene had nine barn quilts on display in August 2005 (see www.offenburger.com/barnquilts.asp).
Motor north to Pocahontas, Humboldt and Wright counties to find still other barn projects created with the help of youthful 4-H enthusiasm. Luke Odland of Wright County learned that the Iowa Historical Preservation Alliance (IHPA) had a goal to photograph and count all surviving Iowa barns. He did that for Lake Township, recording a history and photographing 31 barns. His family heritage display at the state fair stated that 30 years ago the township had 75 barns. Tour maps available in Humboldt and Pocahontas can be found at www.humboldtcountybarnquilts.com/ and www.iowaartists.org/quilts/.
From this cluster in the center of the state, head to the southwest corner to find Trisha and Megan Lightfoot of Fremont County, members of the WMP 4-H club, and their blue ribbon barn quilt, believed to be the first in the county. Or head northeast to Chickasaw County where Abram Karels, a high school sophomore from Ionia, documented the round barns of his county.
Yet another barn-related project comes from dairy country in Jackson County. 4-H’ers Amber Heinrich and Jenni Ihrig wanted the dairy barn on the county fairgrounds to be safer and more eye-appealing . They received three grants (a $250 4-H Pioneer grant, a $250 4-H Iowa’s Promise Youth grant and a$7,093 Alliance Pipeline grant) and worked with their fair board and 4-H club to restore the barn.
The IHPA estimates that Iowa has been losing approximately 1,000 barns per year, a number the group says is accelerating. Several 4-H youth and concerned adults across the state are making a difference, as they work to save the more than 50,000 barns that remain of Iowa’s original 200,000.
Another organization, the Iowa Barn Foundation, works to preserve Iowa’s rural buildings. The Foundation provides barn restoration matching grants to help property owners restore their barns. The group showcases restored barns during various tours, including an All-State Barn Tour each year.