Grahams use barn quilt to express family history

Published 12:05 am Sunday, February 14, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

MT. ULLA — From its shape to the colors composing each element, every part of the Graham family’s newly installed barn quilt contains special significance.

Curtis Graham Jr., the family historian, estimates that the family’s barn near Mooresville Road dates back to the early 1900s or late 1890s. The barn’s latest addition — a barn quilt — reflects years of family history and is part of a growing trend in Rowan.

A barn quilt consists of a large, square piece of weatherized material and a quilt-style pattern painted on top. Barn quilts are said to date back to Adams County, Ohio, where a woman wished to honor her mother’s Appalachian heritage.

The Grahams installed their barn quilt Saturday afternoon amid cold, windy weather. Family members set up a pulley system and hoisted the barn quilt — an estimated 180 pounds — onto the building’s front entrance. Surrounded by aged paint on the Graham’s barn, the barn quilt shone in the west Rowan sun. A field of yellow comprised the quilt’s background. A series of multi-colored and multi-patterned panels formed a circle around a reddish square in the center.

Husband and wife pair Larry and Barbara Graham said the barn quilt mimics a place mat that’s common in the family. Larry’s and Curtis’ mother frequently made the placements as part of a casual quilting hobby. Barbara said the Graham family chose the placemat as a template to honor Larry’s and Curtis’ mother.

“We were trying to think what’s the oldest quilt we’ve got,” Barabara recalled. “We couldn’t really come up with anything, and I said ‘wait a minute,’ got up and went to the drawer, picked up one of the placemats and said  ‘I’ve always liked these.'”

The Graham’s barn quilt is eight feet wide and eight feet tall. The quilt isn’t quite identical to its placemat template, but features a number of sentimental components. For instance, a dark shade of green — called Graham green by the family — is the same as a color on the family’s milk bottles when they ran a dairy farm. Now, the Grahams rase beef cattle. The yellow background is for a kind of flower that grows nearby. Larry said the blue and orange within the quilt are for Clemson University and the University of North Carolina. Both are schools where family members graduated.

There’s more than 20 families in Rowan County estimated to have a barn quilt, according to Susan and Pam Bostian, friends who collaborated to make the Graham’s quilt. Susan and Pam spent about two months on the Grahams’ quilt and say they’ve painted about 20 barn quilts together. A few existed before the pair started painting, Pam said.

There’s a desire to create a Rowan County barn quilt trail — a series of the painted squares at various locations along a route. However, there’s not as many barn quilts in Rowan as other areas in North Carolina, Susan said.

A number of small communities, municipalities and counties have organized barn quilt trails for motorists to view.

Susan said most quilts she and Pam have painted are eight feet long by eight feet wide. The quilts, however, vary widely in size. Susan said there’s not many people who make barn quilts larger than 8 feet wide by 8 feet long.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.