Northwest of Harrisburg, in the countryside of Perry and Juniata counties, you’ll find a loop of 8-by-8-foot painted quilts that have been mounted on barns along scenic roadways.
They call it the Quilt Barn Trail.
It’s the brainchild of the Perry County Council of the Arts, used as a teaching tool and demonstration for its Arts in Education (AIE) residency program.
“In each residency, I begin by talking about quilts and quilt history,” said Denise Hoke, who coordinates the Quilt Barn Trail program. “Math is very important, especially geometry, in the design. We discuss local history to tie into the quilt through shape and color. This often leads to the students thinking outside the box.”
The students, all from area high schools, design their own patterns and decide what they want to create for their barn quilt, which, for outdoor exhibition purposes, is actually a quilt-like square painted on wood. As a fiber artist, Hoke still thinks of the paint medium as if she were constructing in fiber.
“I love watching and listening to the students’ ideas on each quilt block we create,” Hoke said.
The lines between local history, quilting history, art, geometry, industrial arts and community service are blurred as students design and create the painted quilts to be mounted on barns and other buildings visible from scenic highways.
For example, the red of the Spiral Quilt suggests the covered bridges of Juniata County. The green represents the grasshopper war at Port Royal, a battle between two native tribes that started with two young boys arguing over grasshoppers. The circular pattern is representative of the mills in the county.
Another quilt square, mounted on a barn in Loysville, is divided into four parts. Each tells a story of the area and its history—from the initial settlers entering Sheaffers Valley to the natural features abundant near West Perry High School.
As soon as PCCA implemented its first “Quilt Barn” residency in 2013, the program not only engaged students but had the benefit of selling the AIE program.
“With hundreds of motorists passing the quilts each day, we could not have designed a more effective marketing campaign for our arts-in-education residency programs,” said Erika Juran, executive director of PCCA.
We should not forget the most important part of the program—the impact on the students.
“What I liked about the whole process was that we all got to have our own say and opinions,” one student told me.
PCCA’s Quilt Barn Trail now boasts 21 quilts through the two counties. The trail has even become an attraction and economic boost, as motorists and bus tour groups contact PCCA for maps of the trail. During the tour, they stop for shopping, antiques and guilty pleasures like ice cream and wine.
A great place to start your own tour is at the PCCA Gallery, located in the heart of Newport. There, you can meet staff members who can show you the best way to follow the trail, and check out fine art and crafts from more than 150 member artists. Before setting off on your quilt hunt, consider walking across the street for some sustenance at Espresso Yourself Café.
Another of your stops in Newport could be Butcher’s Farm Market on Fourth Street, where you can stock up on veggies, flowers and tasty treats.
As you travel the trail, don’t miss a stop at Bucks Valley Winery and Vineyards and the Winery at . And for those hot, summer days, a stop in Millerstown at Halls Ice Cream is guaranteed refreshment.
The Sunday of Labor Day weekend is a great time to travel the Quilt Barn Trail, as PCCA will celebrate its Country Casual Party at the Winery at Hunters Valley from 4 to 8 p.m.
As you travel the trail, keep in mind that these works of art were not professionally made. Local high school students created all the quilts—from concept to execution.
“In all of the quilt barns we have made, no two are alike,” Hoke said. “The students completely design them. I am there to guide and help work out any problems or questions that arise.”
Author: Don Helin