by Laurel C. Wemett
Barns and farm buildings dot the landscape throughout the Finger Lakes Region. Some are alive with activity while others are deserted and structurally compromised. Now these reminders of the area’s strong agricultural heritage are boasting colorful barn quilt blocks. Similarly, the bright décor can also be spotted on businesses – especially those located in converted barns. One such example, named “Crown Royalty,” is mounted on the “Pie Barn” at Monica’s Pies, the popular roadside bakery outside Naples.
A barn quilt block resembles one square of a fabric quilt, often using a variation of a traditional pattern such as Compass or Log Cabin, painted on aluminum composite boards to withstand winter climate extremes. Three block sizes – 8×8, 4×4 or 2×2 feet square – fit different sized structures. Those made for homes, sheds, fences and garages may be smaller.
“I feel the trail has been very successful,” says Leah Friends of South Bristol, one of the founders of the Finger Lakes Barn Quilt Trail (FLXBQT). One of several barn quilt trails in New York, FLXBQT is bounded by I-90 on the north, Route 390 on the west, the Pennsylvania border on the south, and Route 14 on the east. The barn quilt trail movement originated in Ohio about 20 years ago, after a woman brightened a plain tobacco barn with a quilt block for her mother. Neighbors and friends then formed a trail to attract tourists and boost the area’s economic development.
In November 2018, Leah Friends, Liz Smith of South Bristol and Deb Lindbloom of Naples developed FLXBQT. Along with an email and Facebook account, they’ve created a logo, rack card and trail directory that identifies the site of 50 registered locations displaying about 61 quilt blocks. Thanks to Ontario County’s tourism bureau, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, an interactive map on the FLXBQT website encourages road trips. The timing was perfect; Friends says the trail provided a beautiful driving tour during the pandemic, “when all anyone could do safely was to take a drive.”Friends’ neighbor Courtney Boulton keeps track of finances and processes applications to be on the trail. Placement on the trail is limited to structures that are on a public road, accessible year-round and clearly visible from the roadway. A registration fee is based on block size.
The 8×8 quilt block on the Founder’s Barn on busy Route 64 south of Bristol Mountain was the initiating piece of FLXBQT. The historic weathered English-style barn, owned by the town of South Bristol, shares the entryway to the town’s Founder’s Cemetery. “The Bristol Valley Star,” Friends’ colorful block of yellow, blue, gray and green, is laid out in a modified traditional quilt pattern.
The barn quilt names help with identification, while information about the design and the building is located on the group’s website. Friends’ newest 8×8 trail block, “Jessie’s Flowers,” is located in Avoca on a renovated barn operated by Hemlock Ridge Farm. This active organic dairy farm also operates Hemlock Ridge Farm Market selling meat, eggs, maple syrup, bulk foods and flowers. The design represents Jessie Slayton’s love for growing and arranging flowers to share with her community,
Surroundings can inspire a quilt block like the 4×4 quilt block at Weaver View Farms, an Amish quilt shop. The restored 1850 barn on Route 14 north of Penn Yan, built 1,000 feet from the western shore of Seneca Lake, motivated business owner Pauline Weaver to create her own unique version of the Mariner’s Compass, called “Seneca Mariner’s Compass.” Two smaller quilt blocks on the building honor local ties to the Underground Railroad.
“Amazing Corn,” an 8×8 block created by Marlese (White) Hawkins of Bloomfield, was installed last year on Bob-Mar Farm’s barn on County Road 39. The super-size cob’s yellow and white kernels were inspired by the locale, known for growing bi-color corn. A new pumpkin barn quilt block for the same barn will be a reminder of the pumpkins piled there every fall. Hawkins’ blocks adorn other family structures and businesses, including “White’s Whim,” named after the family’s cottage, which greets shoppers at White’s Farm Market on Route 64 in Bloomfield.
“We’ve learned to create more complicated patterns than when we started four years ago,” says Deb Lindbloom. “Our growth and completion of each block inspires us to paint another one.” Lindbloom and her husband Frank have completed about 35 blocks since 2017. They made 10 during the pandemic, as commissions, gifts or to keep. A favorite is the 2×2 block called “Mama’s Heartfelt Hummingbird,” created in honor and remembrance of Lindbloom’s late mother, who loved hummingbirds. “I embellished the colors by adding paint strokes to give the appearance of bird feathers in the hummingbird and depth to the flowers and leaves,” she explains.
Other Lindbloom barn quilts found around Naples include “Sweet Garden Splendor” at Sweet Blessings Boutique on Main Street. The Lindblooms have also donated blocks as fundraisers to non-profits, as have Friends, Hawkins and other barn quilt makers.
DIY from Simple to Complex
Friends completed a few commissions in 2020; the price for a commissioned quilt block is based on size, number of colors and complexity of design. She also offered workshops on her open-air back porch, so people can make their own.
First, the aluminum composite board is sanded so paint will adhere. Three coats of white paint provide a starting base. Friends recommends beginning with a simple geometric pattern, which is then taped off. At her spring 2021 workshop at the Little Lakes Community Center (LLCC) in Hemlock, some students tackled a geometric star pattern. Mary Ann Thompson, president of the LLCC Association and owner of Hemlock Hills Alpaca Farm, chose an alpaca for her barn quilt. Donna Jopson, widow of country music singer Dick Jopson, created the image of a guitar.
These creations cannot warm the body like the fabric quilts that inspired them, but their vivid designs feed the souls of their makers and the many travelers that seek them out. “The Finger Lakes Barn Quilt Trail has brought people together, created community, spread happiness to many people, especially during the time we have needed most,” says Friends.
Find the trail directory on the Finger Lakes Barn Quilt Trail Facebook page and a map at flxbarnquilttrail.com.
Guide sheets on making a barn quilt and sources of supplies are also available.