Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail inspires community-wide creativity, collaboration

barn quilt 2

By Sasha Steinberg

Photos by Letty Weeks

It takes teamwork to make the dream work. For Starkville Area Arts Council member Vicki Burnett, the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail is one of those dreams.

A self-employed painter and owner of Burnett Art Studio and Custom Cowbells, Burnett has played an integral role over the past few years with organizing the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail, a collaborative effort between the Starkville Area Arts Council, members of the local community, and students and faculty in Mississippi State University’s Department of Art.

Back in 2001, the barn quilt movement began in Adams County, Ohio, and quickly became a trend across the U.S. According to www.barnquiltinfo.com, the very first barn quilts were painted directly on the surface of barns. Over time, painters began creating quilt blocks on wood, which were then mounted on barns. Typically, a full-sized barn quilt is eight-by-eight feet, which requires two full sheets of plywood, mounted side by side.

When complete, the barn quilt can be mounted on a barn or other structure. A collection of barn quilts in one county or area constitutes a barn quilt trail.

Burnett said she first learned about barn quilts while taking a painting class with Starkville artist Jackie Tisdale.

“Jackie was doing a painting and in the painting, she had a barn with a barn quilt painted on it. I thought it was fabric, but Jackie explained to me that a barn quilt is actually a painted square featuring a single-quilt block design,” Burnett recalled. “I liked the idea of combining the art of painting with that of quilting, so I did research on barn quilts to learn more.”

As Burnett started reading about barn quilts, she discovered that there were trails in Mississippi, but there was not one in Oktibbeha County. She proposed the idea to the Starkville Area Arts Council, which later formed a partnership with MSU’s art department. Together, they worked to put Starkville’s home county on the national Barn Quilt Trail map.

“MSU art professor Neil Callander’s Design II students were learning about color, color theory, shapes and designs. He wanted to find a way for his students to apply what they were learning outside of the classroom, so we formed a partnership in 2014,” Burnett said.

Every spring semester for the past three years now, Callander’s students have designed barn quilts for the Oktibbeha County trail as part of their final Design II class project. Burnett said students taught by MSU graphic design professor Suzanne Powney also have lent their talents to the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail.

“Suzanne’s class has been wonderful, too. They created a quilt for the Habitat for Humanity resale warehouse, and another semester, her class designed a logo and brochure for us,” Burnett said. “We’ve just been wonderfully blessed. The participation from Mississippi State has been great.”

Along with MSU students, Burnett said the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail has benefitted immensely from the efforts of several individuals, businesses and community organizations.

“Friends of the Noxubee Refuge painted five barn quilts that are on display around the Refuge, and the Oktoc Community Club painted one for their community club,” Burnett said. “Dixie Massey of Masseyville Pottery in Starkville created a barn quilt that she has hanging on her pottery studio, and I have a barn quilt on my art studio as well.”

Burnett said Boy Scout Troop 14 built several barn quilt frames and hung the quilt at the Oktibbeha County District 5 Volunteer Fire Department. Two barn quilts also were sponsored by quilting groups here in Starkville. Three homeschool students wanted to get involved, so they too made a barn quilt that is hung on the front of the Starkville Public Library on University Drive.

“It’s just been a neat collaboration of all kinds of folks from different ages and backgrounds,” Burnett said of the participation that the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail has received from the local community.

While a barn quilt square can be made from sanded and primed plywood or metal, Burnett recommends use of a professional sign board called medium density overlay, or MDO, which has a smooth surface that is resistant to water, weather and wear.

“There are couple of ways to do it,” Burnett said of barn quilt creation. “You can draw your design on paper, divide it into grids and then draw the same kind of grids on your board. Another option is to use an overhead projector and project your image on your base.”

“I have instructions on how to make a barn quilt, so if someone wants to make one, I can certainly send them information about the materials to use and a good way to go about it,” she added.

Burnett appreciates barn quilts that are traditional in nature, but she especially enjoys seeing designs that offer a unique take on traditional patterns.

“I love the quilts at the Refuge because they have traditional quilt patterns. One of the barn quilt squares features canoes, which is very fitting because canoeing is available at the Refuge,” she said.

When creating the barn quilt square that can be found on the corner of Main and Jackson streets, Mississippi State students used the “flying geese” design as inspiration and put their own spin on it, Burnett explained.

“It’s exciting to see a new generation come along and use an age-old pattern as a springboard to come up with a new design,” she said.

A detailed listing of Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail locations is available online at http://www.starkvillearts.net/barn-quilt-trail-map.html. Among them are the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, Habitat for Humanity resale warehouse, and Mississippi Horse Park.

“Our barn quilt trail is a fun way for people to go on a scavenger hunt and see interesting locations around our beautiful county,” Burnett said. “My favorite barn quilt is located on the old Little Building Studio on Lafayette Street in Starkville, and it’s the first one we actually had painted directly on a building. The art students from Mississippi State painted the design on the brick, and the colors and patterns they used are really nice.”

Burnett is pleased with the growth that the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail has experienced since its inception. Moving forward, she is hoping to inspire others to help with adding more eye-catching creations to the trail.

“To have 30 barn quilts in three years is pretty impressive, and there’s been a lot of collaboration to make that happen,” Burnett emphasized. “Over the next three years, it would be cool if we could double the number of quilts. It really depends on our community members and what they want to do. Making barn quilts is a fun process, so I want to encourage people to participate.”

For more information on the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail, contact the Starkville Area Arts Council at 662-324-3080. Applications for becoming a part of the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail also may be obtained by contacting Vicki Burnett at 662-418-1820 or vickiburnett@hotmail.com.