FAYETTE — A ribbon of white fence traces the cracked blacktop road as it winds through Howard County. Grazing livestock and rows of corn mark the landscape.
There’s a bend in the road, and out of nowhere, the unexpected appears — a bright-blue quilt pattern, painted on an old barn.
This building is special.
It is part of a “clothesline of quilts” that loops through three central Missouri counties, marking barns that are at least a half-century old.
Quilt block patterns are painted on 8-by-8-feet lightweight metal panels and hung on the face of a barn, where they can easily be seen from roadways in Cooper, Saline and Howard counties.
According to the American Quilt Barn Trail, 27 states and two Canadian provinces have community-organized quilt barn trails displaying almost 3,000 quilt squares.
The Boonslick Trail currently includes 25 barn quilts, with the goal of 20 in each county. Nine more will be completed between Sept. 1 and June 30.
Eventually, there may be a trail of quilts across the entire country.
The local effort was developed by the Boonslick Area Tourism Council to promote agritourism and showcase the state's classic old barns, said Connie Shay, founding member and secretary and treasurer of The Boonslick Area Tourism Council.
Founded in 2001, the council has strict requirements in order for a barn to be deemed eligible for a quilt.
“The barn must be visible from a blacktop road, and it has to be at least 50 years old,” said Mary Duncan, founding member of the tourism council. “The owner also has to agree to maintain the structure.”
The organization has received a grant from the Folk Art Section of the Missouri Arts Council to help defray expenses and keep the program expanding.
The traditional quilt block patterns are easily recognizable from a distance by their primarily geometric patterns. Most of the squares are painted to resemble blocks of very old quilting patterns that were popular in the local region.
Among the patterns on Missouri barns are the bear paw, farmer's daughter, Indian maize and Sante Fe wagon tracks.
A great deal of thought is invested into selecting each barn and choosing the perfect quilt squares to suit them, Shay said.
“Working directly with the owners, we help select the right quilt pattern and colors to be painted and affixed to their barns,” she said.
The quilt pattern sometimes has significant meaning to the barn owners as well.
When Elaine Osborn, 70, retired to her family’s country farm in Saline County, she wanted to pay homage to her heritage.
“Maple Crest Farms has been in my family for generations,” Osborn said. “I wanted to find a way to pay tribute.”
Built in 1914, the white barn “deserved to be adorned,” she said.
Working with the tourism council, Osborn chose the “country farm” pattern in blue, gold and orange because they reminded her of the “sky, sun, and autumn harvest … of what goes on throughout the year on a country farm.”
Shay says the quilt barns were an inspiration of Ohio resident Donna Sue Groves, who wanted to memorialize her mother who loved to quilt. She painted a quilt square on the family’s barn in Manchester.
She called her creations “quilt squares” because they closely resemble the square-shaped quilt blocks (or patterns) that quilters piece together as coverlets.
The council hopes drivers will do more than just slow down to take pictures. They see the trail as a means to promote greater appreciation of Missouri’s rural history and culture.
"We want to bring tourism off the big highways and into the smaller communities," Duncan said.