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Barn quilts for Ruthven

By Staff | Mar 27, 2009

Austin Hagedorn and Carrie Kathman work on one of the barn quilts.

RUTHVEN – It began as an idea to help this northeast Palo Alto County community celebrate its 125th anniversary, but has evolved into something that will leave lasting impressions on the community today and for generations to come.

Seeking ways that his community could celebrate, community booster Ray Grandstaff proposed the idea of erecting barn quilts throughout the community. With a population of approximately 850, it wouldn’t take many to spruce up the community and give people something to look at now and for years to come.

“You see more and more of them around,” said Grandstaff, who added that he needed a plan to carry out this idea.

A member of the Ruthven-Ayrshire School Board, he naturally thought of the high school art class contributing to this effort. When he explained the barn quilt idea to the quasquicentenniel committee, he included art instructor John Clouse and some local quilters. Together the group opted to put the project into motion and identified possible good locations to place barn quilts.

“I thought it was a good way to get the community and the school working together on a project,” said Grandstaff.

Ruthven-Ayrshire High School art students Kyle Simongton and Amanda Long, work on one of the community’s barn quilts.

Once the high school art class help was secured, the next step was to make it all happen. To actually begin the project, the idea was presented to Ruthven community residents. Orders were taken, and the 5/8-inch plywood quilts, each measuring four square feet, were cut by Ron Bentz, high school shop teacher. Designs were then submitted.

Some Ruthven residents made their own barn quilts, while others have “hired” the Ruthven-Ayrshire high school art class to bring their quilts into reality.

“The money we’re getting for making these barn quilts will go toward buying a digital camera for our graphic arts department,” said art instructor John Clouse, who is also the school’s yearbook advisor.

All of the barn quilts that the students are making are one-sided, though some in the community have made, or are making, two-sided quilts. The art class took the designs that people brought in and “tweaked” them here and there in color and/or design – making them more workable for the time the students would have to complete them.

“It took the students the whole third quarter to do four barn quilts so far,” said Clouse. “The students might only be able to complete one or two quilt “pieces” in a single class period, (depending on the complexity of the design). We’ll do it until the end of the school year, as long as we have time to finish the yearbook, too.”

From left are Alan Japenga, Harry Raihala and Mark Langner working on a barn quilt for the Ruthven community’s 125th celebration.

Clouse said the project has been something that has raised young people’s awareness of quilting as an art that has been around for many generations. Clouse said it’s been a learning experience every step of the way for his students.

“The hardest part of all of this for the students has been re-sizing from a small picture with exact measurements to reproduce it on a four-by-four piece of plywood,” he explained. “They’re learning to take one step at a time, such as which colors to lay down first. They learned to put the light ones down first because if you have to overlap colors, it’s easier to put a dark color over a light color rather than the other way around.”

Clouse said the students seemed receptive to the idea, though it’s been a hands-on learning experience for them to do such a project.

“Most of these kids help with the yearbook, too, and it’s all done digitally and on the computer. With something like this, we’ve learned about (exact) measuring, good clean-up techniques of painting tools and even about paint preservation. This project has been a little messy for them.”

Jordan Sanderson, a senior art student at the school, said it feels good to help with this community project.

Jordan Sanderson, left, and Cody Zielstra work on a barn quilt for the Ruthven community's 125th anniversary celebration. Both are Ruthven-Ayrshire high school art students.

“We’re adding art to the countryside, and doing something good for people here,” he said.

Art student Austin Hagedorn added that, ” it was really a challenge doing such precise measurements.”

Michelle Long, preschool para-professional at the Ruthven-Ayrshire Community School, is having the art students do a barn quilt for her and her husband.

“I liked the concept of a barn quilt, and the only stipulation there was with my husband is that it had to be one that he wanted hung up, too,” she said. “We’re both veterans, and when I saw (a design) with an American flag on it, I knew it was the one. The design looked kind of country-like, so that’s what we went with.”

Clouse and his art students went to work on it, removing some of the finer details of the design to make it easier for the students to finish by the end of the school year, and altered the color here and there. The project is in its finishing stages.

Grandstaff hopes to see 10 or 15 of the barn quilts displayed around the Ruthven community by the time of the celebration in July this year. School business teacher Kelli Keefer and her students will put together a brochure mapping out sites with the barn quilts for the town’s celebration.

“Anytime you can publish the work of the kids, it gives them a lot of pride,” she said.

Grandstaff concluded that the quilt project will add a unique element to the town’s celebration, as people will be invited to “tour” the barn quilts in the community during the quasquicentennial this summer.

“There is some history behind barn quilts, too,” he said. “Years ago in the days of the underground railroad, they were put up–some with secret symbols, as to where a safe place was to go.

“Today we’re just promoting the town and giving the people some pride. We’ve seen some barn quilts up now, and even the kids are noticing them. It gives them a lot of pride, too.

“When these kids come back to Ruthven five or 10 years from now, they’ll look for them and feel good that they had a part in all of this.”

Contact Karen Schwaller at kschwaller@evertek.net.

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