July 25, 2008

Quilts on Barns takes shape

Kathi Wilson, Phil and Jean Jacobson

The transformation of Racine County's rural landscape began Friday morning, with the hanging of our first "barn quilt."

The 8-ft. by 8-ft. painted rendition of "Tulip Basket" was hung on a beautifully restored 120-year-old barn belonging to Jean and Phil Jacobson, at 6119 Heg Park Road in Wind Lake. The barn, that in its heyday housed cows and pigs, will now serve -- it is hoped -- as a tourist attraction, just one of many such decorated barns.

The project sprang from the head of Racine quilter Kathi Wilson (earlier story HERE), who has found sponsors, chosen barns and patterns and put together a crew of painters and quilt hangers.

The Jacobson's barn is just the first to be decorated. A second barn -- owned by Bill and Sandra Swantz and located at 4603 108th St., Franksville -- will receive its quilt Saturday morning, starting at 8:30 a..m. Then, at 11 a.m., there will be a small celebration at the Jacobsons' barn, with certificates presented to the barn owners.

As the summer progresses, a total of 15 barn quilts will be hung. Wilson says she has enough barns on a waiting list to keep the project going for at least another two years.

So far, Wilson has raised about $7,500 for the project, along with donations of some materials -- Shur-Line donated 15 boxes of paint brushes and rollers. It costs $750 to sponsor a barn quilt. The Jacobson's barn quilt was sponsored by Johnson Bank, and the Swantz's quilt, which was painted by the Racine Montessori School, by Shur-Line. Wilson is looking for more sponsors -- both for the quilts themselves and to help pay for a documentary she is helping to make about the project. Sponsors get their name on a roadside sign by their barn, and recognition in all marketing materials and on the project's website.

Painting of the quilts is a community affair. Jean Jacobson -- yes, she's the former Racine County Executive who "retired" in 2003 -- said she and four other women from the Norway Garden Club primed each side of their quilt's plywood twice, primed the edges four times, and spent about three weeks -- weather was damp and it took awhile for various colors to dry -- to complete their Tulip Basket square.

"We were disappointed when it was done," she said. "We had so much fun, someone suggested we turn it over and paint the other side!"

Jean and Phil have lived on the property for 45 years, spending the first six years of their marriage in a rented one-bedroom apartment in the farm house, before finally buying the spread. She grew up in Wind Lake, two miles away, and they were married in the little Norway Lutheran Church that is separated from their six acres only by its cemetery. The 1843 church was the first Norwegian Lutheran Church built in America; buried in the cemetery is Col. Hans Christian Heg, a brigade commander for the Union Army during the Civil War. Heg Memorial Park is across the street. The Prince of Norway visited the church in the 1940s.

"Lots of people will see the quilt," Jacobson said, noting that Norway's 8,000 residents must pass it as they go to vote at Norway Town Hall. Jacobson, who once oversaw Racine County's $200 million annual budget, is now in charge -- as Norway Village president, appointed in March, 2007 -- of the village's $2 million budget. She's also a director of Johnson Bank -- a $5 billion enterprise -- whose board she joined after retiring as county executive.

Jean Jacobson with the roadside sign explaining the project

Kathi Wilson shows off her thrift-shop jacket,
embroidered with the project's logo

I couldn't be present at Saturday morning's hanging of the project's second quilt, a "Tennessee Star" at Bill and Sandra Swantz's barn in Franksville, but Kathi Wilson was kind enough to send the following pictures.

Workers finish hanging the quilt

The certificate celebration with the Racine Arts Council;
painters from the Racine Montessori School;
and sponsor Shur-Line Paintbrush


  1. This is such a beautiful set of pictures, thank goodness for the Racine Post.

    What a nice summer day and neat barn outing! Thanks again!

  2. Yes, thank God there is still a bastion of superlative journalism!

  3. What a wonderful project for the special area of southern Wisconsin...it will be such a terrific drive in the Fall among cornstalks and pumpkin farms....but why not some recognition for the "workers"on the picture....not an easy job??? Who are they? Can I get them to work for me ?? Everyone working together made this excellent idea come to fruition...not just a chosen few.....