July 26, 2009

A patriotic finish to Quilts on Barns project

Kathi Wilson with barn-hung quilt on Hwy 45

Racine's combination quilting bee and barn raising came to an end today, with the hanging of the final three "barn quilts" in Kathi Wilson and the Racine Arts Council's Quilts on Barns project.

Money ran out this year, cutting the project short; it ends with 26 quilted barns -- mostly working barns, some over 100 years old, each decorated with a different 8'x8' painted quilt block. It was somewhat bittersweet this morning, under sunshine and a beautiful blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds as the last three quilts were hung by a volunteer crew. As the last screwhead was daubed with touch-up paint, Wilson described her emotions as "happy, joyful, excited and overwhelmed."

Looking over at the last quilt, in the very patriotic Four Flags pattern near the top of Robert and Judy Grove's 1902 red barn in Caledonia, she stated the obvious: "That looks gorgeous up there." And so it did. And then she and Pat Levine of the Arts Council broke out the champagne.

But let's start at the beginning this morning.

Before 8:30 a.m., the crew arrived at the Yorkville farm of Marge Demuth, who with her husband, Bob, raised six children on their farm. Well, let me put it the way Marge put it: "We raised sheep for 35 years, and the sheep helped us raise the children."

The farm now is down to 10 acres, but in its heyday it was over-run with those sheep, for 4-H projects, and goats, ponies, what-have-you. In the "old days," it was a dairy farm, and the original horse stalls and cattle stanchions are still in evidence.

Marge put out a picture, right, of the barn-raising from 1900 or 1902 -- who can remember back that far? -- and said she's "very interested in preserving barns."

The basic structure of her barn is sound -- although it was shifted slightly on its two-ft. thick stone foundation some thirty years ago, when a tornado ripped through the county, destroying five barns less than a mile away.

Here's the first half of the quilt, being hoisted into place

And now, ready for its closeup: Cornucopia on Plank Road

The barn, located at 19030 Plank Road (Route A near Hwy 45) is now decorated with a square from the quilt pattern Cornucopia. Sponsor was Karen and Bill Boyd; painters were the Quad Quilters.

Jerry Seitz, Al Barry and David Wilson decide how
to hang
second quilt. Not pictured is crew member Jan Rolland

This morning's second barn, belonging to Keith and Beth Jacobson, dates from 1850, and has been in Keith's family since 1872. His grandparents farmed the homestead "next door," and Keith's parents bought this farm back in 1948. "Keith has always had animals," Beth said. For many years, while raising their five children, they ran the operation as a dairy farm, getting out of that in 1997. Now they just raise steers, "for our own use and for friends."

"Milk prices are terrible now," Keith says. "Back then, our costs were $12 a hundredweight just to break even; they've probably doubled by now, but the price being paid is only $11 a hundredweight." And with a dairy operation, he says, "you can't turn it off when prices are low, and then turn it back on."

"Farmers are eternal optimists," he said. "That's why we're Packers fans; gonna win the Super Bowl next year..."

Balloons in remembrance of Patsy Bushey frame Sawtooth 16

The quilt-hanging at the Jacobson's barn was a party celebrating the life of Patsy Bushey, who died in 2006 from complications during chemotherapy. Her friends and family -- including daughter Sue Fliess and daughter-in-law Chris Bushey -- brought colorful balloons to the quilt-hanging and remembered the many quilts Patsy Bushey had made for members of her family. Watching the block from Sawtooth 16 Patch go up, they recalled that Patsy had made that very quilt, although in a different color scheme. "It's perfect," Sue said.

Patsy Bushey's family and friends sponsored and painted the quilt square. The Jacobson barn is located at 5200 Raynor Ave. (Hwy 45).

Judy Grove takes one of many pictures at the quilt hanging

The final barn of the morning, and the project, belongs to a full-time farmer, Robert Grove and his wife Judy. They have 65 acres of their own, but Robert farms 1,000 acres in all -- raising corn, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa and so on. In fact, when the quilt crew arrived at their farm, Robert was nowhere to be found. His wife explained: "He's on 'farmer time,' which is always a half-hour late. Robert was off haying; "Got to cut it today if I'm going to bale it Tuesday," he said when he arrived.

The couple raises almost all the food they eat, starting with 25 beef steers and a big garden. "I can and freeze," said Judy. "When we sit down to a meal, it's very satisfying to look around the table and say, 'this we raised...and this....and this..." Some of the steers came out to warily watch the quilt hanging.

Robert Grove signs the back of his quilt panel

The farm has been in Grove's family since 1952, and they've raised two children there. The quilt pattern is Four Flags, and was chosen by Robert after the couple spent many hours on the internet searching for a pattern they both liked. But there's no question about who made the decision. On the back of the quilt square -- written in black marker that won't be seen for many, many years -- is a note written by Judy: "Bob wanted this one," it says. "Just for you, honey."

"I guess I just felt patriotic," he said, noting his service as a county supervisor for the past six years.

Four Flags quilt patch in Caledonia

The Groves' barn is located at 8024 Nicholson Road, just off 7-Mile in Caledonia. They sponsored the quilt block, which was painted by members of the Caledonia Conservancy.

Click here to view all our stories about the Quilts on Barns project.

Kathi Wilson and Pat Levine of the Arts Council break out the champagne


  1. One of the great many things that RCVCB (and with help from the RAC) does each year!
    Idea! lets get rid of the DRC and have RCVCB run downtown events!!

  2. Cheers to Kathi and all the people who worked so hard to bring beauty to our countryside. I hope other county residents will do their part to beautify our landscape by cleaning up the litter that detracts from what we want visitors to notice and enjoy.

  3. Bob Roeschen7/27/2009 9:50 AM

    U say the $ ran out. How much is needed for one quilt?

    How much for installation?

  4. Sponsorship of a quilt cost $750, and that covered everything.

  5. I hope I'm not hurting anyone, but that "Four Flags" pattern could be misinterpreted as a swastika--a friend to whom I showed it thought that it was one of those symbols. (Way back before the Nazis, swastikas were considered good luck charms and had no sinister significance. Then the Nazis grabbed them and the rest is history.)

  6. Dear Pete, That $750.00 could have done a lot more good at the Food Bank or HALO. In the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Quilts on Barns and other arty-tarty projects are silly. With winter on its way, our poor and elderly citizens could use some REAL blankets, comforters and quilts!

  7. Amen! Lots of low-income seniors could use a nice warm blanket or two particularly since many of them can no longer afford to heat their homes.

  8. It's clear that we've got oligarchs endowed with more dollars than sense in our sad city and calamitous county. Fake quilts on barns are a joke in a place where our oldsters dread their fall and winter heating bills.

  9. I'm a sixty-four-year-old woman existing on next to zilch. As far as I'm concerned, whoever dreamt up "Quilts of Barns" needs to wake up and do something about the poverty in this place. Tossing $750.00 out the window to hang a daubed plywood replica of a comforter on a building is obscene!

  10. P.S. My apologies for mangling the name of the project ("Quilts on Barns"). Still, what I said about it stands--during a depression, we should be helping our poor citizens instead of playing with pricey fake quilts.

  11. Do people receive tax deductions for donations to this project? There has to be some reason for doing this crazy stuff.

  12. I agree that seems a little pricey but what is wrong with bringing a little beauty to this world?
    In Matthew 26:11 Jesus says the poor you always have with you.

  13. Yes, but helping the poor should take priority over yuppie eye candy.

  14. The trouble in this community goes back to the Dirty Thirties, when an industrialist who should have known better brought Frank Lloyd Wright's amoral cult of beauty for it's own sake to our city. For Wright--who was a very evil little man--aesthetics trumped ethics and anything could be justified in the name of pulchritude.Wright's lingering influence on a certain excessively-privileged clan of cash-cadgers is why we have so much art and so little heart in Racine.