Tuesday, August 28, 2012

American Barn Quilts

On Saturday at work, we had a book signing by a Georgia author named Suzi Parron, whose book on barn quilts has just been published. I was vaguely aware of what barn quilts were, although not that there was any sort of movement behind them or that they were that widespread.

Barn quilts are essentially large outdoor paintings that take a square from a specific quilt pattern or design and recreate it in a 6 x 6 or 8 x 8 form. It's either painted directly on the wood on the side of a barn, or painted on separate panels which are attached to one another and then affixed to the side of a barn (traditionally; now you find 'barn quilts' on historic homes, art studios, stores, any kind of place). They tend to have some incredible colors to the, and very graphic design sensibilities (since quilts are designed in a geometric way, and then you have to make them visible from the road when you're putting them on what is frankly the broad side of a barn), so after looking them up a little bit I decided to take a break from work to sit in on Suzi's talk and buy her book.

This is my second-favorite barn quilt so far:

The photo is hosted here.

The above is a barn quilt, for example, from Kankakee County, Illinois. This photo comes right off of Suzi's blog, which I totally recommend to anyone who finds this even remotely interesting.

For those who are not interested at all, here is a really cool sci-fi webcomic that I am sort of obsessed with right now. Great writer/artist, good ideas, solid execution... Knock yourselves out.

I actually really like barns, because barns feel a little bit like home. For the maybe two people who don't know this, my dad's a farmer and I grew up in and out of the barn at my grandparents' farmhouse, befriending not-quite-feral barn cats who nonetheless came running to my grandmother's call to purr around her legs.

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve my cousin Jake and I clambering up the wood ladder and swiping away cobwebs so we could go hang out in the barn's "attic", the immense empty storage room at the top. I remember a basketball hoop and a basketball that was basically flat, and the smell of old wood and hay, shouting to hear our voices echo, barn cats milling around the bottom of the ladder meowing for attention. I'm pretty sure we played Star Wars up there at least a couple of times, although how barns, cats, and basketballs fit into Star Wars has since escaped me.

It made perfect sense at the time.

Candle in the Wind Studios - photo here.

I've been thumbing through the book pretty much nonstop since I bought it. Suzi has some great photos, and her talk on Saturday was great. She did a slide show of barn quilts while she spoke, starting with the very first one she herself saw, then going into the history from the first quilt going up eleven years ago to where we are now - where less than half-a-dozen states don't have a quilt. I had no idea the trail was that big.

The reason this came up is because the museum I work at is officially going to be a part of the Upstate South Carolina quilt trail. We've got the frame set up outside, and we just need to get our actual block finished and placed within the frame for everything to be set, as far as our part goes.

That's what made me think of barn quilts again - and then I sat through Suzi's talk and realized how interesting the designs really are.

With Love, From Letitia in Dover, Tennessee - photo found here.

I am an unending champion of what is often considered "primitive" or "folk" arts. Often these are things which take real craftsmanship and patience, but don't get the same respect as contemporary paintings and sculptures. This has partly to do with "folk" art often being more function-oriented than form-oriented - think of quilts or wrought-iron gates... and it also partly has to do with these useful arts being sort of ubiquitous; I mean, who hasn't owned a quilt for keeping warm when it's cool outside?

Barn quilts basically combine three awesome things for me - truly vibrant and gorgeous painting, community effort to preserve historic traditions like barns and quilting (these trails come together often as an effort of town preservation committees), and barns. Without any serious need to store hay in huge amounts in most of the country at this point, barns are starting to disappear.

 One of the reasons our drive back to Illinois, when we must make that 12-hour trek instead of just a two-hour flight, is less awful than it might otherwise be is that I like watching barns pop up and the land flatten out into the geography and landscape I find most recognizable... so it makes me sad to see fewer barns than I used to.

Larson's Corn crib. Kankakee, Illinois. Photo from here.

This is just something that I'm getting into, and I thought some of the people who read my odd ramblings here might be interested in it, too. I feel like I've let my painting go so much and I really only just started drawing again regularly, and the last few weeks it seems like things that kind of inspire me to take it back up again keep popping up.

Maybe I should start listening to these sparks and get back into the creating things place...

I had such a good time when I was there before.

On a related note, a bit of info for you guys; I used to have an art blog that fell into disrepair and disuse when I stopped painting and drawing quite as much. I'm going to shut that blog down for good, and instead I plan to do the occasional update here, on this blog, about whatever I might be creating at the time. Those posts will be titled The Giant's Eye, however, so you'll know by that title when the update is an art update.

I know I posted first my second-favorite barn quilt... so I wanted to post my absolute favorite. I'm only sorry there aren't any better pictures of it. It's also a local barn quilt out at Split Creek Farm.

The quilt square used is from a design called Echoes of the Past. You can find a photo of a full quilt made using the pattern over here... although I like the colors in the above barn quilt quite a bit better.

Me? Like vibrant colors? I'm sure you're all completely shocked.

Like I said, this is just another in a list of things recently that has made me think that I need to start pulling my acrylics and paintbrushes back out, especially now that we're settled in the new place and Jason has started working on getting his blacksmith shop up and running. Last Saturday he and his dad (and our friends the Spiveys came to help some, because they are awesome) moved an old workshop that was on our property when we bought it, and they're beginning to set up the space that we'll be putting his shop in.

When I was showing the book to Jason, I said that I feel like we could make a little barn quilt square of our own, but I don't know where we would put it. He suggested on the side of his shop, once he's got it up.

I just want that on the record, folks... that it was his idea.

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