Barn quilt project highlights Carroll County's rural history

Drive up and down the rolling hills on Uniontown Road in Westminster and you'll run into a red barn adorned with a placard painted with sunflowers.

The barn on the Gardener's Gourmet farm is one of 12 rustic buildings getting decorated as part of a new community art project thought up by the Carroll County Arts Council.

The placards are actually replicas of quilt panels. By placing the panels on highly visibly barns, the council hopes to highlight the art of quilting, the area's agricultural history and how they are tied together.

"It is a celebration of a traditional art form and a way to bring attention to the beauty of rural properties that are being lost left and right," said Susan Oxx, director of the arts council.

The barn project was created in conjunction with an exhibit of quilts made by local artists that recently opened at the Carroll Arts Center on Main Street in Westminster. The artists have also made a quilt from all of the panels displayed as part of the barn project. The quilt will get raffled off and proceeds will help to expand the barn project.

It costs about $200 to buy the materials for each quilt panel, Oxx said. Volunteer artists painted the panels and county workers erected them.

Similar barn quilt projects exist all over the country, but Oxx was inspired to start one in Carroll County after seeing similar decorations in Maryland's Garrett County.

The brain child behind the first-ever barn quilt in the country is believed to be Donna Sue Groves, who started one in Ohio as a tribute to her mother, Maxine, who was an avid quilter.

Carroll County tourism and parks and recreation officials, who helped conceptualize and promote the project, see it as a tourism tool they hope will encourage people to drive the county's scenic farmland.

"We have a lot of great things that happen at the arts center and this was a way to take it outside and into the country," said Jeff Degitz, administrator for Carroll County Recreation and Parks. "We have great agricultural history in this county and some very scenic back roads."

The county has created a pamphlet that lists every barn with a quilt panel so tourists or residents can do self-guided tours. The hope is they will ask questions and learn about the history of many of the farms.

One is displayed at Thomas Tree Farm on Hanover Pike in Manchester. The farm once raised cattle and grew wheat, but over the past 40 years has become a popular destination for people to buy Christmas trees.

Wayne Thomas, 73, grew up on the farm that he still runs today with his wife, Jean, also 73. Thomas said he switched to the tree business when it became harder to turn a profit with other types of farming.

Thomas said he was intrigued by the barn quit project when he was approached to take part. He figured if participating wouldn't hurt anything, then why not.

"I'm not an artist, I'm just a farmer," Thomas said. "I had the barn. They had the quilt. We could make it work."

Degitz said project officials had a hard time choosing from the many barns in Carroll County. They wanted barns that were visible and wanted to make sure they represented different parts of the county. Barn owners have agreed to keep the quilt panels up for two years, but can maintain them forever if they choose.

At Gardner's Gourmet, Wave Williams drove his pickup truck from the greenhouse where his family grows herbs and produce during the cold winter months.

He said people have stopped to ask about the quilt panel erected on the family farm — started by his great-grandfather, sold and then bought back by his grandfather.

"I think it's great what they're doing to promote the county," he said.

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