Quilt Barn History

Genesis of a Dream



Growing up in West Virginia, Donna Sue Groves and her family would play a simple game of counting the barn advertising signs, such as Chew Mail Pouch, See Rock City, Seven Caves, Natural Bridge and Drink R C Cola on long road trips.  They would use the different styles of barns such as Bank, Round, Crib, Tobacco as part of the automobile game. During vacations, she delighted in watching for the colorful geometric Hex signs scattered throughout Pennsylvania. Her family used barn watching as an opportunity for family discussions, a way to pass the long hours riding in the car, and as a history lesson.



 In 1989 she and her mother purchased a farm in Adams County, Ohio. On the farm was a tobacco barn. Donna Sue promised her mother that someday she would paint a quilt square on it for her. As the years passed she kept thinking about her tobacco barn and the quilt square that she had promised to paint.

For the past ten years Donna Sue has nurtured community development through the arts by serving as a Field Representative for the Ohio Arts Council.  She has experienced first hand the power of public murals to produce social value, foster community pride, serve as catalysts for economic development as a tourism destination, and to support community self expression. However, not all rural communities have a floodwall or the existing wall space to paint something as large as a mural. As she traveled throughout the Ohio River Valley, she looked at those empty barn walls as an opportunity to create public art and she kept talking about her promise to her mother.

In 2001, Pete Whan with The Nature Conservancy offered to help paint a quilt square for her mother. Donna Sue suggested that if they were going to paint one square why not consider painting more. She suggested that they could use the squares as an opportunity to develop a driving trail to entice tourists to visit Adams County. She believed that this trail would stimulate economic opportunities for local businesses and artists.


 Although the concept was simplistic Donna Sue felt that it reinforced the best of our region - our farming and quilting heritage. It would utilize local assets and engage community folks in the process of planning and implementation. Pete agreed and a grassroots committee was quickly organized.

The Adams County Quilt Barn project was designed and implemented entirely by volunteers. The committee worked hard to encourage the involvement and participation of other community members in the process of creating public art. On October 13, 2001 during the Lewis Mountain Olde Thyme Herb Fair the first quilt square, an Ohio Star created by Mark Lewis and Bill Brown was unveiled.


The Adams County Quilt Barn Sampler project was officially dedicated to honor Donna Sue's mother Nina Maxine Groves, a fifth generation quilter from Roane County, West Virginia. In the summer of 2003 Maxine's quilt square finally became a reality. It is the Snail's Trail pattern designed and painted by Geoff Schenkel, Marietta, Ohio.




Quickly the word spread to other communities. They asked if they could participate. Donna Sue enthusiastically said yes and offered her support and expertise. All that she asked in return was that each new community remembers the genesis of the project, her mother as the honoree and that they in turn would share it other communities.




Donna Sue’s early vision was to create an imaginary clothesline of interconnecting barns decorated with quilt squares across Ohio and the nation thus creating a National Quilt Barn Trail.




And so it has happened -




A National Quilt Trail is rapidly spreading across Ohio to Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Iowa, and North Carolina and beyond. Over 400 colorful quilt squares adorn barns, flood walls and other significant community structures. All projects are similar but they are shaped by each community’s own values, vision, heritage and cultural strengths. Each grass roots community project captures the spirit of place using ‘art’ for community celebration and economic development.