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Artist brings the age-old barn quilt tradition to Simcoe County

'I wanted to create something that would convey a ‘burst of happiness’ with lots of bright colours,' Bradford resident says of her art

When the province went into COVID-lockdown months ago, local resident Pat Palumbo decided to pass the time by starting her very own traditional “barn quilt” - a large hand-painted wooden block resembling a quilted-pattern generally placed on the front or side of a barn.

These folkloric painted quilts are commonly seen in the United States and have been around for hundreds of years, but have recently become popular again since the early 2000’s after a woman in Ohio, Donna Sue Groves, decided to create a barn quilt as a way to honour her mother.

Groves’ barn quilt prompted other neighbouring farms to create their own version of the ‘stitch-like’ art. That resulted in the first official “quilt trail” in 2001 - a series of barns with quilts that formed a trail for people to view them.

Barn quilts are traditionally a way of honouring a loved one but have also been a symbol of “good blessing” for the family residing in the dwelling. Some say they were used as a code system in the early to mid-19th century for people seeking safe lodging during the underground railway.

When Palumbo began researching these colorful 8x8 paintings, she fell in love with the geometrical shapes and designs that resembled hand-sewn quilts.

“I was a judge at the Sutton fair for needle work, quilts and other sewing projects,” notes Palumbo. “I tried for many years to get into quilting – it’s hard to do.”

Palumbo’s real passion, however, lies in painting which she has relished in for over 15 years.

“I use a lot of acrylic paints,” said Palumbo. “My specialty is painting owls. I have many owl paintings everywhere”.

Palumbo’s husband (Enzo) rearranged the farm’s garage to accommodate the large blocks of wood to ensure she had enough room to paint, and she used latex paint and primer to ensure the colours would not fade in the sun.

“I did a lot of searches online and looked at many different patterns before deciding on my own,” explains Palumbo. “I wanted to create something that would convey a ‘burst of happiness’ with lots of bright colours.”

Traditionally, barn quilt patterns are derived from a square piece taken from a family’s quilt, but can also carry symbolic colours that signify the type of farm the barn is situated on; the list of pattern and colour possibilities are endless.

Palumbo’s pattern took many months to complete. Once finished, she called the colourfully vibrant piece “starburst” which is now hung on the side of their 150-year-old barn on the 5th Line in Bradford.

“It wasn’t easy getting it up on the side of the barn,” admits Palumbo. “Enzo got up on the ladder and said ‘Pat, if it comes down, it’s not going up again!’”

Palumbo states that more barn quilts can be seen down Highway 27 towards Schomberg, as well as down the 5th sideroad towards Fisher’s Corner.

“We take huge pride in our property,” says Palumbo. “People are always appreciative of historical quilts that pioneers would make… I just thought maybe I could make somebody’s day [better] if they saw something pretty while driving by.”

Barn quilts are now featured in documentaries and published books, and people can register online to find the nearest ‘quilt trail’ in their area.

So, next time you’re out driving through the back roads of the country, keep your eyes peeled for historical barn quilts.




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