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Barn quilts blazing a trail across the Valley thanks to 4-H youth

Lorelei Muller

Gathered at the Ormstown Recreation Centre on April 20 for an activity day that also included planting succulents and learning more about the Fondation HSL Haiti, 20 members of the Ormstown 4-H Club picked up their paintbrushes and flexed their creative muscles to design barn quilts. The club’s press correspondent Haylie Trepanier said she enjoyed the colourful activity, noting that “measuring the design out on the board was the most challenging part” of the project led by volunteer Laurie Finlayson. Trepanier added, “I’d like to thank her for helping us.”

Barn quilts date back to colonial America, when these designs were believed to protect the farm and bring good fortune. The tradition is regaining popularity as communities across North America embrace the art as a way to enhance the landscape and encourage tourism in rural areas. Single quilt block patterns are painted onto large boards, typically as bright, simple geometric forms that are visible from the road when installed on barns or other buildings. The first barn quilt trail was initiated in Ohio in 2001 by Donna Sue Groves, who wanted to honour her mother’s quilting art by painting a block on their tobacco barn. Realizing the project could attract tourists and economic development, she worked with the community to create a “clothesline of quilts” throughout the countryside. Today, quilt trails are found in dozens of states and several provinces. In many communities, an art council, quilt guild, 4-H club or other groups work together to organize barn quilts and create maps for travellers to follow. Trails may also include stops at points of interest, such as galleries, farm stands, and wineries.

20 members of the Ormstown 4 H Club spent the day designing and painting barn quilts on April 20 photo Laurie Finlayson

In 2018, members of the Huntingdon 4-H Club learned about barn quilt history as they created two large blocks which were proudly installed at the Huntingdon fairgrounds last summer. Thinking it might be a nice way to promote tourism in the Valley, the youth challenged members of the other local 4-H clubs to pursue the project as well. This year, the Huntingdon club received sponsorship from Home Depot Vaudreuil to buy more paint, facilitating a few new quilts. They hope to line the outside of the fair barn and possibly auction off one quilt. Half of the proceeds will go to charity and the remainder to future quilt projects. Plans include cow, chicken, and tulip patterns.

“We were inspired when we saw it last year at Huntingdon Fair,” said Lindsay Gruer, president of the Howick 4-H Club, whose members were to hold a painting day on June 1 with 10 young participants. Barn quilts measuring 2 feet by 2 feet will be introduced as a class in the 4-H Home and Garden section of this year’s Ormstown Fair. Several 4-Hers from the different clubs look forward to participating.
June 6 to 9, you can follow the barn quilt trail to the second floor of the industrial building during the Ormstown Fair. From there, the trail heads west to Huntingdon Fair, August 8 to 11.

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