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Community barn quilt will be ‘more than paint and wood’

BEAR POPLAR — When it’s completed, the community barn quilt being created square by square at West Rowan Farm, Home & Garden will be the size of a small apartment.

The exact dimensions are 10 feet high by 42 feet wide, or 420 square feet. In all, it will have 80 2-by-2-foot squares, four 4-by-4-foot squares and one 6-by-6-foot square.

It actually will be more like a mural, but this project underway in western Rowan County is being billed as the biggest community barn quilt in North Carolina.

Children, retirees, farmers, artists, churches, business groups and civic organizations are working on it — and have been since February.

“It has brought a lot of people together,” store co-owner Elsie Bennett said.

So far, people ages 6 to 94 have contributed.

At completion, the huge barn quilt mural will be installed on the Graham Road side of the store and be visible from N.C. 801. Parts of it might start going up in a month or so, but the whole thing probably won’t be finished until the fall.

Youths and adults with special needs were invited Sunday afternoon to work on the biggest panel — the 6-by-6 square of a multicolored butterfly, which Bennett said will represent the heart and soul of this area of western Rowan County.

While Gwen McCloud painted on one of her own individual squares that will be on the completed mural, she was thrilled her 13-year-old son, Zachary, had found another child with whom to have a conversation.

“He’s talking and socializing — that’s awesome,” she said.

Nearby, 4-year-old Alina Sossamon and teenager Carter Scoggins were applying blue paint to different parts of the big panel, whose design was already taped off.

Bennett said the great part of the mural is that many people will be able to drive by the store and see their art contributions on permanent display.

But beyond that, there are stories to every square, reasons why people chose the patterns, colors and images they did.

“They’re more than paint and a piece of wood,” said Bennett, who has become a prolific barn quilt artist and instructor.

Many of the completed 2-by-2 squares are propped up or displayed for now along the walls of the store’s warehouse. Bennett said they represent wide-ranging messages about things such as favorite schools, family, friendships or even breast cancer and suicide awareness.

One woman created a Tar Heel quilt square in memory of her late husband, who was a big University of North Carolina fan.

Dicy McCulloush painted her square in honor of veterans. Susan Owen used the image of a buffalo in one of her squares to honor her daughter’s family living in Wyoming.

Another one of Owen’s squares mimics the pattern in her husband’s grandmother’s quilt, which still has a home in a cedar chest.

Members of the Farm Bureau’s Women’s Committee has painted five squares. One will go on the mural, while four others will be used for fundraising.

There are other squares whose geometric patterns were chosen just for their lines and color.

Callie Edwards, who attends West Rowan Middle School, says she chose the pattern she painted from a posting on Pinterest. She liked its movement and bright colors.

Cotton Kethcie, a retired photographer who shoots all the photos for the annual barn quilt calendar, did a panel showing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. His inspiration came from one of his own pictures of the lighthouse.

“I had to have a lot of help,” Ketchie said. “I’m thinking I might do another one. I enjoyed it so much.”

No painting experience is required. Bennett and several volunteers lend help laying things out, straightening and tightening up the lines.

Bennett asks all her community barn quilt artists to write on the back of their squares the meaning behind what they did. She hopes to compile all that information into a book or brochure to go with the mural.

There is a cost — $45 per 2-by-2 square, which covers the paint, wood panel and any guidance needed. And there are about 20 squares still not spoken for.

Whenever West Rowan Farm, Home & Garden is open, there’s a good chance someone is back in the warehouse working on his or her barn quilt square.

“It has turned into more of a community center,” Bennett said of the warehouse, which is also the location for her art classes, Sunday community nights, weddings and corporate events.

“With the quilts now, they’ve kind of taken over,” Bennett said.

She has several big barn quilt projects in the works, including squares for the Country Life Museum and a major one for Carolina Malt House just outside Cleveland.

This past Sunday kicked off the community nights West Rowan Farm, Home & Garden holds that include an ice cream social, board games and live music — bluegrass, gospel or “old-school country,” Bennett said.

The gatherings are held from 5 to 8 p.m. Sundays through the fall, no matter how many folks show up.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.




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