Door County’s most expansive gallery space begins at one end of the peninsula in Southern Door and stretches all the way to the northernmost tip of the county on Washington Island. Nestled among the cows and crops, and crowning distinguished old barns, the colorful barn quilts of Door County dot the countryside.
Beginning in 2010, in conjunction with the UW-Extension and Wisconsin 4-H, the Door County Barn Quilt Project organized the creation and placement of 51 barn quilts around the county. About eight feet square, each one displays a design chosen by the barn’s owners.
For retired clergyman Fr. Tony Birsdall, the barn-quilt project provided a chance to highlight both his longtime hobby of raising chickens and his faith. Titled “Chicken Chapel,” his quilt features baskets of eggs, chickens and a cross pattern.
Theresa Kinnard – one of the first barn owners to choose and install a barn quilt – was initially drawn to the project through her love of quilting, but the project is also about restoration and preservation.
“Door County has so many beautiful older barns, and when these barns are gone, they’re gone – that history doesn’t exist anymore,” Kinnard said. “The barn quilts highlight the older barns and their history. A lot of owners took the opportunity to spruce up their barns when the quilts went up.”
Kinnard’s quilt, titled “Tumbling Maple Leaves,” is one of Kinnard’s own designs. She wanted the quilt to tie in to the name of her farm, East Maplewood Dairy, so it depicts four falling maple leaves that represent both East Maplewood Dairy and the four seasons.
Each barn quilt is personalized – with a maritime star, piano, patchwork rose, American flag and many more symbols – so that it expresses the personalities and interests of barn owners across the county and tells the stories of the surrounding farmland and the generations of people who have lived and worked in Door County.
Although the Door County Barn Quilt project is now about a decade old, the resulting barn quilts continue to brighten the county’s landscape and have become a welcome and natural part of their environment, forming a vibrant clothesline that connects even geographically distant farms.
“Following the barn quilts is just like going on a hike, but instead of flowers in the woods, you see quilts on barns,” Kinnard said.
To follow Door County’s barn quilt trail, visit door.extension.wisc.edu/files/2011/08/2014-Barn-Quilts-of-Door-County-Guide.pdf to download the “Barn Quilts of Door County Location Guide.”