July 13, 2008

Quilts on Barns: First two will be hung shortly

Jim Limburg, left, and Al Barry, with 'Wild Goose Chase' quilt panel
that will go on Adrian and Richard Kessler's barn on 7-Mile Road.

Anyone who's visited Lancaster County, PA, will remember the country barns, decorated with colorful, round hex signs, a good luck symbol for the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Well, in a few years, travelers around Racine County will have a similar experience -- except our rural barns will be decorated with colorful "quilts."

The first two of 15 barns to be "quilted" this summer will receive their decoration in two weeks. By October, all 15 should be completed ... and project organizers project a similar schedule for the next two years as well.

This project, taking shape as quickly as it has since January, had its beginning when local quilter Kathi Wilson saw an article in a magazine about Grundy County, Iowa, where the idea began.

"I just had to go see it," Kathi says, and so she drove to Iowa. "You're driving along a country road and all of a sudden there's this beautiful quilt pattern on a barn. They're just stunning. I thought, 'this will be awesome in Racine County.' "

She knew she had a great idea, but held back, for two years, also knowing how much work would be involved. (Although she's been a quilter since 2001, Kathi says her real passion is "bringing people together.") Finally, Kathi contacted Lorna Henning of the Racine Arts Council. "She thought it was a great idea, and suggested I talk to Dave Blank of the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He loved it, asking me, 'Why did you wait so long? We've been trying to attract people out into the county." Right away, he was on board."

And so, work began on what is called the Quilts on Barn project. Starting last October, Wilson, Henning and others came up with the criteria -- mainly an active, wooden barn visible from the road -- and in January they put out a press release, seeking ten barn owners willing to participate.

"It's just been wild, the response was unbelievable," Kathi said. Before they knew it, they signed up the first 15 barns that were offered, and started a waiting list "that will cover next year."

Now comes the fun part, painting the "quilts." Traditional quilt patterns are transferred to a grid so the design will fit on the two 4' x 8'' plywood panels, and various groups have each agreed to paint one, more than 200 volunteers in all. Some of those organizations are Cops 'n Kids, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Norway Garden Club, the Potpourri Garden Club, Racine Montessori School, Allese Orthodontics Appliances. And my three favorites -- how appropriate! -- local quilters from the Lighthouse Quilt Guild, the Rainbow quilt Guild and the First Friday Quilt Guild will each paint a "quilt."

Al Barry is the project's manager, in charge of bringing carefully primed panels to the painters, and then storing the completed panels in a pole barn out in the county. And finally, hanging them on each barn. Right now, he and his crew have seven completed panels ready to be hung, and they're out auditing the barns, to see what kind of ladders or cherry pickers will be needed to hang the "quilts."

The first barn to be decorated belongs to Jean Jacobson, former Racine County executive, whose Norway barn quilt was painted by the Norway Garden Club. It will be hung on July 25. The following morning, Saturday, July 26, the public can watch the second quilt being hung, at Bill and Sandra Swantz' barn at 4603 108th Street, Franksville, starting at 8:30 a.m. At noon there will be a reception at Jacobson's.

By Oct.11, all 15 quilts will be hung around the county, and there a plans for a road rally, a quilt raffle and a reception.

Meanwhile, the already multi-media project has yet another media dimension: Nicholas Ravnikar, Pat Levine and Kathi are making a documentary about the project , having spent March, April and May interviewing each of the barn owners on film. And, of course, taking "before" pictures of each barn, to go along with the quilted barn picture to come.

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