Donna Sue Groves desired to honor her mother who sparked the creation of an "imaginary clothesline of connecting barns decorated with quilt squares across rural America." So, in 2001, just 11 years ago, the popular 8-by-8-foot quilt murals began "popping up" on barns in our county and across America as the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council (Appalachian RC&D Council) in Northeast Tennessee was established.
According to the Appalachian RC&DCouncil, the process begins as barns are selected to host the quilt squares. Five criteria are considered: Visibility (must be able to be seen from the road), appropriateness (location must tie in to agriculture or a historic site), proximity (must be near other barns with quilt squares), attractiveness (barn area must be well-maintained) and compatibility (the surrounding area must be conducive to the goals of the Quilt Trail).
Each square is painted by volunteers and are oftentimes a pattern design from a family quilt.
Sullivan County is part of the Appalachian RC&D Council and is currently home to 18 hand-painted quilts hanging on weathered barns. It is my privilege to have accepted the challenge of visiting each of them and sharing a bit of the process and history behind their creation.
Anticipating the scent of freshly cut grass and hay, and with camera and notepad in tow, please journey with this Georgia peach as I seek the adventure of exploring the rural artwork in my new Upper East Tennessee home by traveling the back roads, highways and farming communities in Sullivan County.
For my first Quilt Trail barn visit, I chose the stately west barn at Allandale, located at 4444 West Stone Drive in Kingsport. According to Curator Rod Gemayel, "the Allandale barns were built in the late 1930s and early 1940s by J. Fred Johnson and later embellished by Harvey Brooks in 1949-50."
A Brooks family quilt was never discovered after the City of Kingsport inherited the magnificent estate, so the "Stars Over Tennessee" pattern was chosen, painted and hung in 2005 by the youth leadership of S.H.O.U.T. (Students Helping Others Understand Tomorrow).
The second barn I visited on The Quilt Trail led me to one of the oldest buildings in Sullivan County - Yancey’s Tavern and its regal old barn that was built in 1903. With its cobblestone foundation, I am reminded of barns in the rambling countrysides of Great Britain.
Owner Rann Vaulx shared that the stately barn had graced the cover of Kingsport’s 2006 telephone directory, depicting the quilt with its "Grandmother Flower Garden" design that was painted by Blountville artist Anita Long and her children that same year.
Located across from East Lawn Cemetery at 6290 Chestnut Ridge Road in Kingsport, the nationally-registered historic site held within its attic a small, unfinished Yo-Yo pattern quilt made from fabrics of 1920s-era dresses that were found during the renovation. Quite dirty, the soiled sample was professionally cleaned then framed and is now hanging in the tavern where I was able to admire it during a recent DAR meeting.
If you are interested in learning how your barn may be added to the Appalachian Quilt Trail, please visit www.quilttrail.org. And, if you own a barn on the Quilt Trail in Sullivan County, please contact me at susanekL@yahoo.com with Quilt Trail in the subject line to share your barn’s story. I promise to bring the cookies if you’ll make the lemonade!