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Friday, 23 September 2016 13:44

In Rockton, barn quilts aren't just for barns

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The village of Rockton has put a new twist on barn quilts, bringing them into downtown. The village of Rockton has put a new twist on barn quilts, bringing them into downtown. Terry Mayer/staff

ROCKTON -- Barn quilts aren’t just for barns anymore. If you don’t believe it, visit downtown Rockton.

The first barn quilt in the country was installed on an Ohio barn in 2001, and the colorful designs have swept through the Midwest ever since.

They are popular in the Stateline area, and the trend sees no sign of slowing down.

The Rockton Township Historical Society has a new twist on the trend, and since 2011 has installed barn quilts at several downtown businesses.

"It’s something we did in downtown Rockton just to get the feel of it," said Marilyn Mohring, director of the Rockton Township Historical Society.

Mohring said the historical society started its barn quilt program after attending area quilt shows.

"There was a group called the Northern Illinois Quilters that involved at least six counties. We went to some of their quilt shows and viewed barn quilts," Mohring said. "It’s something we started and just kept doing on our own. The first year, we started selling the quilts, and we just started doing some more."

Mohring said they have done quilts for surrounding communities, including Roscoe and Caledonia.

"They’re scattered all over," Mohring said.

Mohring said most people request a design that is related to their farm or business.

"Some of them we pick because of the name of the business. A couple we have done were based on someone’s farm," Mohring said. "One we did was called ‘Corn and Beans,’ and another one we did was called ‘Harvest Star.’ There was one we did in downtown Rockton called ‘State of Illinois.’"

"A lot of people come to Rockton to see the quilts," she said. "A lot of them are along Main Street and the Blackhawk Road area. Some of the ones we did were for individual homes, and they really don’t want a lot of people driving up and watching their house."

Mohring said she and other members of the historical society enjoy working on the quilts.

"It’s just something that’s fun to do," Mohring said. "It takes a lot of time. We have to put on the primer. We usually use three or four different colors. Each color has to be done separately, and you have to wait for the paint to dry in between. It takes awhile to get done, but it’s fun."

A growing following

Jeanette Beard of Milton is on a mission to get a barn quilt in every township in Rock County.

Beard said she has been painting barn quilts since the county’s program began in 2010 and is one of the original members of the Rock County Barn Quilt Committee.

"Once we had the original ones up, it received a following," Beard said. "Harmony and LaPrairie townships have been very supportive of the project. There’s been a lot of barn quilts that have been put up in that area."

Beard said people can choose any design they desire for their barn quilt. She said some people have a quilt based on their family’s history.

"I love the creativity of it. You can take the same design but use different colors and it will look completely different," Beard said. "Each quilt has a different story. It’s a labor of love. Some quilts are related to family history and some are related to someone’s childhood."

Beard said barn quilts also can be installed in people’s homes or businesses.

"Some people want the smaller version to go in their garden. We have some retired quilters who want them for their home," Beard said. "There’s one at Beckman Mill, and we helped them paint theirs. It’s an ongoing thing. I had one lady who said she wanted one for a long time, but she wanted to fix up her barn first before she got a quilt."

Beard said it may take several weeks to complete a quilt.

"It’s time consuming. You want to wait at least a day before you apply another coat of paint," Beard said. "If you have three colors, it could take a maximum of 12 days. After you’re done painting, then you have to put in the support boards that have to be cut specifically. It’s really involved, but it’s really fun."

Barn quilt bus tours are hosted throughout the year. Beard said the barn quilt program gives people an opportunity to tour different areas of the county.

Quilt pioneer

Visitors to the Apple Barn in Sugar Creek may easily become captivated by the "Tree of Temptation."

   But unlike the one that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden, this tree is a barn quilt.

The design is a perfect fit for the longtime family orchard on Sugar Creek Road north of Delavan.

Judy Jacobson, co-owner of the Apple Barn, said their barn quilt is popular with visitors, and many of them travel throughout the area to see different barn quilt designs.

"We get a lot of seasonal people who visit," Jacobson said. "If they’re not familiar with the barn quilts, we tell them about it and hand them a brochure about other barn quilts in the area."

Walworth County’s barn quilt program was started in 2009 by the Walworth County University of Wisconsin-Extension office.

Kathleen Tober has had a barn quilt displayed for nine years on her barn in the town of Troy. She said it features a sunburst pattern.

Tober said Peggy Reedy, agriculture educator for the UW-Extension office, encouraged her and other county residents to have a quilt installed on their barn.

"We were at a meeting, and she started talking about putting up barn quilts all over Walworth County," Tober said. "She asked us if we were interested, and we all said yes. We went to the (Walworth County) fairgrounds and started painting our barn quilts. It took us about two weeks to paint our quilts and bring them back to our barns."

Reedy said she decided to start a barn quilt program in Walworth County after viewing some while driving through Iowa.

"I thought we needed to do something like that here," Reedy said. "At the same time, there were three or four people who thought the same thing. It’s grown ever since."

Reedy estimates that there are about 80 barn quilts in Walworth County. She said, some barn quilts have been torn down while new ones have been added.

"Since we’ve published our last brochure, we’ve added a few," Reedy said. "One was destroyed by a fire. Another one was destroyed by a tornado. Some people have moved and taken their quilts with them, but more have come up. Two more are scheduled to come up in the fall."

Reedy said some people paint the barn quilts themselves, while others have volunteers work on their quilts.

"Some people do it as a family project. Some high school students have done one for their senior project," Reedy said. "Some 4-H clubs have come out and painted a barn quilt."

Reedy said most people use a design that represents their barn or agriculture business.

"A lot of people choose a design that has meaning to them," Reedy said. "A lot of them have a business or a farm stand, and they use the barn quilt to attract people to their business or farm stand. A lot of people have barn quilts to show pride in their farm."

Reedy said barn quilt projects also give people an opportunity to learn about the history of their farms.

"Some people renovate their barn to put up the barn quilt and they find out some interesting things," Reedy said. "One person found whiskey bottles from the 1800s stuck in their barn walls. He did some research and found out one of the hired hands had a drinking issue and left whiskey bottles in the walls. One person learned that his barn once was a part of three other barns, and it had been taken apart. It’s a good way for people to learn about the history of their barn."

The Walworth County Visitors Bureau hosts barn quilt bus tours. Brochures of Walworth County barn quilts are available at the visitors’ bureau, UW-Extension Walworth County and the Apple Barn.

"I conduct some of the tours, and I usually talk about agriculture in Walworth County as well as the barn quilts," Reedy said. "Walworth County still is about 60 percent rural. It’s a great way for people to get out and see Walworth County. It’s a great way to get people out to see the barns and farm stands and barn quilts."

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