Quilt Barns: A colorful tour through Oregon historySep 30, 2019 10:31AM ● By Fyllis Hockman
Family history. Artistry. Farm life. Bursts of color. Tradition. Community. Creativity. I saw all of this represented in the wooden quilts displayed on the sides of almost five dozen barns in Tualatin Valley, Oregon. The combination of personal history and rural tradition that finds voice in these quilt blocks brings to life customs, folklore and artistic expression emblematic of the entire valley.
What is a quilt barn?
Imagine an 8x8-feet pattern of painted wooden blocks representing actual quilt designs, displayed on the exterior of barn doors. These so-called “quilt barns” represent an agricultural heritage, providing a connection each family has to the quilt and that the quilt has to their history.
The quilt blocks are as diverse as the farms and farmers to which they belong. Farmers may choose a particular pattern based on a favorite quilt, farm crop or animal. Often the patterns reflect their personal family history, a kinship to a natural element or are simply chosen for their appealing color combination.
The Oregon quilt trail
Julie Mason, a quilter herself, was inspired by the Quilt Barn Trail in the Midwest. In 2012, she introduced the concept of a quilt barn to her local quilters’ guild in Oregon. They rallied behind the idea, and just seven years later 60 quilt barns emerged throughout the Tualatin Valley.
The “Hovering Hawks” block on the Simpson Century Farm—a farm that’s more than 100 years old and has been inhabited by the same family—was the first block to go up in December 2014. The farm is now the staging area where, under the watchful eye of owner Bev Hess, all of the quilt blocks are built, painted and assembled. Each block is an arduous, labor-intensive task fully manned by a dozen skilled volunteers. Inception to installation takes about six to eight weeks, and the quilters’ guild works closely with each farm owner on design, colors and concept. Hess’ own choice reflects an old quilt design from the Oregon Trail that also pays homage to the many hawks that inhabit the farmland.
Explore Tualatin Valley
Currently, the quilt barns have been divided among four routes throughout Tualatin Valley, and maps of directions is still a work in progress. I mainly traveled along the Forest Grove route, visiting a variety of visually delightful, colorful and meaningful quilt barn participants. Designs ranged from a windmill paying tribute to the farm owner’s Dutch heritage to a covered wagon celebrating the family’s ancestor who traveled the treacherous Oregon Trail.
Among the farms and quilt blocks I visited was the Foehlinger Farm, which replicates the first quilt block the owner had made with her grandmother. The Blooming Farm, built in 1882, sports a sunflower block that commemorates their favorite flower growing in their garden.
The Walta Farm displays a classic block of green and yellow that colorfully suggests the sweet corn and green beans grown on the farm. The 1930s barn on the Rohrer property honors the six tribes of Native Americans who made their home near the site. The beautiful blue star design at the L Bar T Bison Ranch celebrates quilts developed by women who crossed the Oregon Trail. Finally, the Spiesschaert Farm quilt block commemorates the owners’ great grandfather who came to Oregon from Illinois via the Oregon Trail in 1884. Their 100-year-old barn even houses the original Conestoga wagon that carried three adults and seven children across the trail!
Just add wine
In case you tire of gawking at pretty barn doors, countless vineyards and fruit orchards line the rural routes. Plum Hill is one such quilt barn that shares its home with a vineyard. The quilt block itself is a traditional pattern often used in quilts given as wedding gifts and aptly named Double Wedding Ring, a favorite of the farm’s co-owner and quilter Juanita Lint. The wines also proved to be a favorite of mine, especially the white made from the Schönburger grape. Plum Hill is the only winery in the U.S. to grow this grape. If you have time, join Lint on an intimate, hands-on wine-making tour at its most primitive level with everything done by hand.
Driving away from Tualatin Valley, I wasn’t surprised to see other quilt barns peeking through the trees beckoning us to return again to this Oregon quilt barn trail.
Learn more about the quilt barns of the Tualatin Valley and see a map of current sights at www.tualatin valley.org.