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Susquehanna Life

Quilt Trail Links Folk-Art and History

Sep 06, 2017 04:49PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

990 Hunters Valley Road, Newport

You can’t drive through Perry or Juniata county Pennsylvania without encountering more than a few barns. If these sturdy structures could talk, they would tell stories of grit, determination and the indomitable spirit that make up the fabric of America.  

Stories and photographs by Stepanie Kalina-Metzger
80 Gamblers Corner Road, Duncannon

To behold a barn is to encounter history. Perry County Council of the Arts, toward its goals to build communities through the arts, nurture creative spirit and enhance the local economy, has engaged students in a project to use barn buildings to display quilt folk art, American symbols of artistry and history.  
What initially began as a way to integrate the arts with education ended up being so much more, according to Erika Juran, PCCA executive director.
“The lines between local history, quilting history, art, geometry, industrial arts and community service became blurred as students designed and created 8’ by 8’ painted ‘quilts’ to be mounted on barns within sight of local highways,” Juran said.
The self-guided tour depicting the artwork currently spans two counties and marries a respected craft with student research and interpretation of local history through design.

Working together

Gill's Construction mounts a
quilt on a barn in Juniata county

The Quilt Barn Trail project, a subset of a national project commonly referred to as “Quilt Trails,” creates squares (usually 8’ x 8’) which mimic the design and colors of a particular quilt square and mounts them on structures across the countryside. It was launched in Perry County in 2013 and has since expanded into Juniata County.
Students from school districts in both counties participated in 10-day arts residencies to design 26 quilts under the tutelage of quilting artist Denise Hoke, a rich resource of information for students and teachers who have worked alongside her.  Hoke has spent more than three decades studying with veteran Amish, Mennonite and modern journeymen quilters. The talented artist modestly insists that she is the one who has learned valuable lessons while working with the students.
“It’s been a pleasure to watch creativity at hand while working beside these young ambitious students as they are seeking their individual paths. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me,” Hoke said.
Teacher Sara Sutton said working with the award-winning, experienced artist has been enlightening.
“Hoke guided us in a collaborative project, interpreting local history and folk artforms through design,” said Sutton. “We created works to share with our community and mark the landscape which we inhabit.”
To give students a frame of reference and spark their imagination, teachers called upon local historian Harriet Magee to share her knowledge of the area. The pupils then had the freedom to create their own designs incorporating symbolic representations of local history.
“For example, mills can be seen in the rotating triangles and agriculture in the sunbeam and color choices,” said Juran.
Juran said honing in on the general location where the quilts would be displayed was the easy part.
“As these quilts were created, pride of place and its history were foremost for our students, so that helped set the general location,” added Juran. “We are also thankful that Hoke was mindful to select materials that will age well and hold up over time.”
Finding willing residents with barns that were fairly visible from the road was the next hurdle, according to Juran. The final piece of the puzzle involved finding someone willing to install the art.
“We reached out to a local PCCA friend whose family has been in the construction business for 75 years,” she said. “Steve ‘Buk’ Gill, Jr., of Gill’s Construction, installs the murals, generally one after the other, all in a single day.”


151 W. Juniata Parkway, Millerstown


According to Juran, the project has been a win-win for everyone. While working on the quilt paintings, the students learned valuable lessons, sometimes without even realizing it. One teacher recalls a student thanking her for getting her out of math class, and then proceeding to unwittingly use geometry to design a quilt pattern.
The project also has borne fruit in other ways. Not only are the budding artists proud to see their work displayed on the larger-than-life barn “canvas,” they also are inclined to continue using the skills they learned during the process. The project also has benefited the PCCA and impelled the public to support the continuation of the program.
“With thousands of motorists passing the quilts each day, we could not have designed a more effective marketing campaign for our ‘arts-in-education program,’ said Juran.
Merchants derive benefits from the project as well.
“The self-guided Quilt-Barn Trail has even become a modest economic engine, as motorist and bus tour groups have contacted PCCA for maps of the trail,” she said. “During their tour, they stop for gas, shopping, antiquing and indulge in guilty pleasures along the way like ice cream and wine.”
The haystack, emblematic of PA Amish farmers.

Because the PCCA is a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’ 13 regional partner, charged with the responsibility of implementing ‘Arts-in-Education’ programs in Perry, Juniata, Mifflin, Huntingdon, Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties, it’s conceivable, according to Juran, that more quilts will be added to barns in additional counties.
“We view the Quilt Barn Trail as a symbol of cultural identity, community pride and artistic exuberance, connecting the counties to their rich history and folk-art tradition and we hope to continue the project for the foreseeable future,” she said.
To learn about the symbolism behind the designs and download a map of the Quilt Barn Trail, visit:
The work of Stephanie Kalina-Metzger, a Camp Hill-based writer, appears in magazines and newspapers and on websites in the U.S. and abroad.  Her blog can be viewed at

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