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Old folk art tradition takes new form

A traditional Americana art form is taking on a new life on farms throughout the country.

Farmers are installing wooden panels, decorated with quilt designs, on their barns.

Three barn quilts can be seen on Pat and Fred Reckrey’s barn, located on Poverty Hill Road in the town of St. Lawrence.

“The idea of barn quilts originally started in Adams County, Ohio, in 2001,” according to Pat Reckrey. “It was a way to pull travelers away from the busy highways and onto the less-traveled rural roads.”

Reckrey said barn quilts quickly spread throughout the Midwest. The first tour event involving barn quilts occurred in Grundy County, Iowa, in 2003.

“Most of the barn quilts in this part of Wisconsin were made over the last two or three years,” Reckrey said. “In Door County, the barn quilts are so popular that they have printed a tourist brochure about them.”

Reckrey said barn quilts range in size from 8-feet by 8-feet to 4-feet by 4-feet.

The Reckreys have installed three 4-foot by 4-foot barn quilts.

“We used half-inch plywood, framed in the back so that they are held a little away from the barn wall,” Reckrey said. “We painted them with a colorful exterior paint so that you can see them from the road.”

For the Reckreys, the experience of creating the barn quilts was as important to them as the finished product. Fred and Pat worked together. They were also joined by their granddaughter.

“It was a lot of fun for us,” Pat said.

She kept a detailed journal of the process, filled with photos, sketches and personal reflections.

Describing her process in creating a barn quilt, Reckrey said, “The first step is to decide on a design. My first barn quilt was an original design, so I played around until I had something I liked.”

The panel is decorated to look like a single square in a quilt.

Probably the most difficult step in the project was mounting the panel on the barn high enough to be visible from the road.

“First, we installed a ledge and lifted the square onto the ledge,” Reckrey said. “While Fred screwed the square into the wall from the inside of the barn, I held it with a 20-foot pole,” Reckrey said. “If you could see the end of the pole, you would see that my knuckles were white from holding it so tightly against the barn.”

Reckrey said she had not originally planned to install three quilt squares on the barn. But after the first was completed, the family decided to work on two more.

All three squares were produced in a single month in August.

As more rural residents create and install barn quilts, Reckrey believes it will make drives into the countryside more of an adventure as travelers search for them.

In some urban areas, smaller versions of the barn quilts are being installed on porches, on cottages and above carriage houses.

“It’s like looking for Easter eggs,” Reckrey said.

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