Mike Brunn is an accomplished quilter — not with fabric, that’s his wife Judith’s department — but he’s handy with a paint brush and doesn’t mind ladders.
Brunn was one of the first barn owners to join the Schoharie County Quilt Barn Trail, which is exactly what it sounds like. Since the project began last year, 20 Schoharie County historic barn owners have built and installed huge plywood squares high up on their old structures.
Each square is painted in a colorful quilt block design, their locations mapped out in a trail covering the whole county. Many of those barn owners had help from Brunn.
“I’m drawn to the colors,” he said.
Sunday afternoon, scores of residents gathered at the Olde Tater Barn in Central Bridge to celebrate the trail’s partial completion and donate funds toward expansion.
Ginny Schaum circulated among the crowd, greeting friends and talking about quilts. Schaum suggested the trail to begin with, and took a moment to explain its purpose.
“The idea is to use art for economic development,” she said.
Now that the quilt squares are hung, she said, people will want to drive around and see all of them, “and they’ll get off I-88 and eat in our restaurants and stay in our hotels along the way.”
20 quilt locations
She passed out maps of the current 20 quilt locations Sunday afternoon, pointing out choice designs.
Brunn’s place fell somewhere in the top right corner. He’s operated a historic dairy farm on Franklin Bellenger Road near Sharon Hill for 31 years, but didn’t think much about quilt blocks until last year.
Something about Schaum’s idea just worked for him. He and his wife built and painted a huge harvest star for their barn and they were hooked. Since then Brunn has help some of his friends install similar blocks on their barns.
“I build the frame first,” he said. “It’s got to be exactly square. Once it’s on the barn there’s not much you can do. If it’s not square it’s a nightmare.”
high hopes for project
Schaum has high expectations for the project. She hopes to expand the trail to 40 locations. She hopes it will bring in tourism dollars and repair scars left by tropical storms Irene and Lee. She hopes a whole art scene will develop around the Schoharie quilt squares.
“People love this sort of folk art,” she said.
Brunn was a bit less ambitious Sunday.
“I don’t know if people will know where to start,” he said.
More than 150 years ago when his barn was new, he said, women were sewing quilts from sections of old house dresses. Now a section of that history, if displayed on plywood, is part of his old barn again.
“I think people will like the rusticness,” he said.