By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
ARCADIA — For the past five years, sheets of wood painted to look like quilt squares have been showing up on barns, garages and sheds across Hancock County.
“We started basically in 2012 with zero, and five years later we’ve got over 100,” said Barbara Gabriel, who is responsible for starting the barn quilt phenomenon locally. She and her husband, James, live in a farm house that dates back to the 1890s on County Road 254 outside of Arcadia. They wanted to dress up a shed in their yard and originally thought about a Pennsylvania Dutch folk art “hex” sign. But they changed their minds when her husband saw painted quilt squares on barns along Interstate 75 in Kentucky.
Using the Internet for research, Gabriel found out the barn-quilt concept started in 2001 when Donna Sue Groves painted a giant square of one of her mother’s quilt blocks and hung it on a barn in Adams County, Ohio. The idea caught on and the county ended up with 22 barns celebrating Appalachian quiltmakers. The idea spread from there.
Now besides Ohio, barn squares are in 48 states — 38 of which have trails. Gabriel said there are over 10,000 squares known, along with three in the provinces of Canada.
In addition to those in Hancock County, quilt trails can also be found in Wood and Allen counties in northwest Ohio, she said.
“There’s a few in Henry, and Seneca is working on it. It’s still growing,” said Gabriel.
She said the whole point of the program is to promote the arts and preserve barns.
“People will fix up their barns to put the square on,” she said. “We had a couple where the wind had blown the roof, damaged the roof, and they wouldn’t put theirs up until the roof was repaired.”
Gabriel said trails also promote tourism. She has received emails from people who visited the Hancock County trail from Missouri, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and all over Ohio.
Outside the box
While most squares usually measure 8 by 8 feet, Gabriel made her first square a smaller 4-by-4-foot block featuring a variation of the Ohio Star quilt pattern which now hangs on her shed.
“He (James) came back from his business trip and told me about the squares he’d seen in Kentucky,” Gabriel said. “So I researched it. It’s just painting on a board, and I do crafts. I thought, ‘I can do that.'”
The first step involves choosing a quilt pattern, which can range from simple to elaborate and can be found in quilt books and online. She then uses graph paper to lay out the design.
While she used to use exterior plywood, Gabriel now prefers MDO (medium-density overlay) board because it has a smoother surface and holds the paint better. She uses regular outdoor house paint for the squares.
“We had a few problems with some of the plywood ones. Exterior plywoods, if they were facing south, the paint peeled more than if they were on any other side,” she said. “So we are redoing some of those to get them back so they’re looking good.”
Following her initial square, Gabriel painted an 8-by-8-foot square that hangs on the front of the Grange building at the Hancock County Fairgrounds.
Her next project was a smaller square that hangs outside the Arcadia Superette, located at the corner of Ohio 12 and North Main Street. She also painted six quilt designs for the front of an empty building a few doors north of the Arcadia grocery store. The building, which formerly housed a beauty shop, was later torn down and the squares were removed to a barn near her home.
While most people use wooden boards, Gabriel had one customer who requested a square made on a sheet of metal.
“He had it primed at a body shop and everything and it was perfect,” she said. “I found on metal you can’t take the tape off when it’s dry, it pulls everything off. You have to take it off when it’s wet.”
There’s also a square near Arlington made of plastic.
“Chatelain Plastics here in town (Findlay) made it. And the pattern and the colors are infused in the plastic,” she explained.
Gabriel eventually made connections with the Arts Partnership, and the May 2012 Art Walk featured barn quilt squares.
“We made small ones and they put them in business windows. It was a scavenger hunt,” Gabriel said. “But the store owners and the people, to them, quilt squares had to be fabric, so it was a whole new concept.”
A couple of people later contacted her and Gabriel began painting squares for other homeowners. By September 2013, there were probably 15 to 20 quilt squares hanging in Hancock County.
“When I started, I thought, ‘Wow! There’s 17 townships in Hancock County. If I could get at least one in each township.’ That was my goal. We now have at least one in each township, but we have over 100, and they’re still popping up,” she said.
Washington Township has the most squares with about 30, said Gabriel, who estimated that she’s probably made half to three-quarters of the squares on display in Hancock County.
A lot of homeowners, though, are now doing their own. She recommended the squares be 8 by 8 feet or 4 by 4 feet so they can be seen from the road without specators having to come onto private property.
Richard and Linda Fenstermaker of McComb have a square on their barn called “Clay’s Choice.”
“Her grandson’s name is Clay. So when he was in high school, she made him a quilt that has all the squares. When she wanted to do the barn quilt, she said it was no choice, she had to do Clay’s Choice,” said Gabriel.
Another couple, Tom and Pam Rader, both picked out their own squares — hers to decorate a workshop she transformed from an old one-room schoolhouse, and his on the nearby family barn. In between his two squares is a smaller table runner that measures 4 by 8 feet.
“He used to rotate crop and had wheat, soybean and then corn, and when he got the barn quilts up, he no longer uses corn because they would hide his barn quilt squares,” said Gabriel. “He will only do low crops now.”
She keeps track of any new squares, including the most recent in Jenera, Vanlue and at Mennel Milling in Fostoria.
“If you want to be on the trail, you have to sign a release form because I use their name and address on Facebook and there’s a blog, and we do brochures,” Gabriel said.
A map of the county shows the location of each square, organized by area.
“It makes short day trips,” said Gabriel. “I did lectures at a lot of nursing homes, and they take their van and every once in awhile I’ll see them come by. And they can do different areas, so they could do, like, the Fostoria/Arcadia area, then they could do the Arlington/McComb area a different day.”
It takes three to four hours to do all of the squares in the county, she said.
Gabriel said the barn quilt trail was featured on an episode of PBS’s “Scenic Stops.” It can be seen at http://wbgu.org/ss/video.php?id=136, and on a video done by the Findlay-Hancock County Convention and Visitors Bureau online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83l_WZ5vcmE.
Gabriel said she’s surprised at the way the trail keeps expanding.
“Between 17 and 25 was kind of my goal, and it just grew. And we have at least 100 that I know of,” she said. “So we’ve had a lot going on in just a few years, and everybody’s been very supportive. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve met so many wonderful people.”
A brochure featuring the addresses of 64 of the squares can be obtained at the convention and visitors bureau, Hancock Historical Museum, Arcadia Superette, Kathy’s Korner and H&M Motors. A listing can also be printed at http://visitfindlay.com/about/barn-quilts-northwest-ohio/. Information about barn quilts can also be found on Parron’s website, www.barnquiltinfo.com.
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