This is the second in a three-part series about the spread of barn quilts across Appalachia, the Midwest and the Northeast, improving rural economy through entrepreneurism.
AMES, Iowa--Extension usually plays a role in the spread of barn quilts, often acting as an incubator for the project until a community steering committee forms. With its emphasis on economic development, a council of community members, and as the hub for youth and family activities, a county Extension office beats with a pulse that can pump life into county-wide projects.
Kentucky’s Madison County, home base for Gina Noe, a family and consumer science specialist with University of Kentucky Extension, started a barn quilt project in 2006. Her committee, made up of Extension Homemakers and volunteers, now has 23 quilts on display. Volunteer painters included elementary school children (for an art project), high school students (for a math project) and an assisted living community. Noe helps write grants to cover the cost of county quilts.
Placement of initial barn quilts makes a difference, Noe said. “Some 55,000 people drive through Madison County each day on I-75. We have four quilts visible from the expressway; most people see at least one.”
The first Madison County barn quilt was hung in July 2006 on a barn visible near Exit 90 on I-75. Likewise, in Iowa, both Grundy and Sac counties placed initial quilts where they could be seen from U.S. Highway 20.
“Our Artisan Center reports having 60 requests about the quilt blocks” over a two-month period, Noe said. “At least half of those people spend some time in our county, maybe buy two meals and a tank of gas.”
Some quilts go on barns converted to new uses. “We have one on a winery (Acres of Land Restaurant and Winery in Richmond),” Noe said. “The owner placed a quilt on the front of the restaurant, which is a converted tobacco barn. She gets 15 to 20 questions a month about the project and touring groups come just to see the quilt and take pictures.”
To spread tourism, Sac County created a 108-mile route throughout the county and installed miniature quilt blocks in each community to designate local museums and area attractions.
Once they’ve seen that first quilt, people will drive down country roads to see others. An Iowa gardener, Jane Hogue, owns and operates the Prairie Pedlar, a garden attraction and tourist stop in rural Sac County, that is an off the beaten path.
She added a barn quilt to her property from “a desire to promote tourism while highlighting Iowa’s agricultural architecture with the homespun charm of quilting. Having a barn quilt on our garden property has brought carloads of sightseers. Visitors tend to come one club or a carload at a time throughout the summer. Offering a barn quilt as well as the gardens is an added bonus for visitors.”
Hogue said that travelers spend time at the garden or browse through the greenhouses and gift shop, “which benefits our retail sales. Each community benefits from the tourist traffic and commerce that Barn Quilt tours generate in food, gas and shopping opportunities. “
For more information on Iowa barn quilts and preservation, see The Barns of Iowa at www.extension.iastate.edu/emms/barns/.
For more information on Appalachian states, contact the Appalachian RC&D Council (Resource Conservation & Development) at 1105 East Jackson Boulevard, Suite 4, Jonesborough, TN 37659, 423-753-4441, ext. 4. See the Appalachian Quilt Trail at www.vacationaqt.com/.
Read how barn quilts are improving the economy of upstate New York in the third article of this three-part series at “Barn Quilts Generate Enthusiasm and Business.”