Spirit of Rowan 2022: Barn quilts bring meaning, color to western Rowan County

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

Elsie Bennett knew the feed business wasn’t going to sustain her 100-plus-year-old general store.

Looking for a way to rejuvenate the Bear Poplar shop, Elsie Bennett found an answer in art.

When Bennett’s “mentor” Adele Goodman mentioned her desire to bring barn quilts to Rowan County, Bennett saw an opportunity.

“After a lot of prayer and thinking on it and thinking on it and meeting Adele, I said, ‘Why don’t we start teaching a barn quilting class?’” Bennett said. “We taught one class and the community loved it.”

Quilt patterns have likely been painted on barns in America dating back to colonial times, but the modern barn quilt movement started with Donna Sue Groves in 2001. Groves painted a quilt block on her family’s Ohio tobacco barn to honor her mother. The idea caught fire and started a country-wide trend that is still growing today.

Bennett and Goodman taught their first barn quilt class in 2017 at West Rowan Home and Garden.

“From there, it just kept going,” Bennett said.

Bennett has helped make Rowan County a barn quilt destination by adding colorful motifs to buildings throughout the rural countryside.

Her first big barn quilt was a colorful 12-foot-by-12-foot design at Patterson Farm. Others soon followed and in 2019, West Rowan Home and Garden set the record for the largest barn quilt mural in the country with a 504-square-foot design on its outer wall.

Rowan County temporarily lost the record to oversized barn quilt murals elsewhere, but regained the honor when Bennett and the town of Cleveland unveiled a 1,000-square-foot mural composed of 160 pieces on the side of the Cleveland Fire Department in October.

“It kept the title here in Rowan County for now,” Bennett said.

While the Cleveland Fire Department has the largest barn quilt mural in the county and country, the single largest barn quilt square in Rowan is on the side of Carolina Malt House.

Coinciding with the unveiling of the Cleveland Fire Department mural was the launch of Cleveland’s barn quilt trail. The 2.6-mile walking trail showcases 60 quilts. Barn quilt designs range from animals to patterns, but almost all of them carry significance.

“Barn quilts are more than painted wood,” Bennett said. “You can really use art to tell a story, engage people and start conversations.”

Bennett doesn’t plan on developing another record-breaking barn quilt mural anytime soon, but she does want to keep growing the barn quilt trail. She is currently working with a company to develop a map handout that will help people navigate the trail.

“I would love to help promote tourism through art in Rowan County,” Bennett said. “It’s a passion of mine because I feel God is using me to make a difference, brighten the world and tell the stories within my community.”

Bennett sells barn quilt calendars and take-home barn quilt kits at her store, in addition to assorted inventory.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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