By KAREN LAPIERRE
RUSSELL -- By fashioning colorful squares, pretty triangles and circles and points, women have traditionally invested time sewing quilts of every size and shape for everyday use, and for decoration and self expression.
Artists from Russell and Lucas and from across the nation have begun using those patterns in a somewhat different way -- with paint or stained oak to construct ornamental wood artwork to install on barns or outbuildings.
Called barn quilts, the idea originated with Donna S. Groves of Adams County, Ohio. She wanted to celebrate her Appalachian heritage and to honor her mother, who was an avid quilter. Groves became the first to paint a quilt square for hanging outdoors.
Historically, German immigrants decorated barns with "hex" symbols or painted circles.
Expanding upon that idea and imagining a variety of quilt patterns would create visual interest along a driving trail, Groves and volunteers organized a sampler of 20 quilt squares, inviting travel through the countryside. Soon, the concept spread across Ohio and Tennessee and then throughout the nation. Today, 7,000 quilt squares are organized into trails, and 24 counties in Kansas are home to quilt trails.
The barn quilts have become uniquely all-American, and regional artists have fallen in love with the barn quilt idea.
Sammy Baker of Russell, shop owner and artist, has a vision for the town she is deeply connected to.
"I want to paint this town," she said. "I want to make Russell the barn-quilt capital of Kansas.
"That's my dream."
Baker would like to have quilts up and down Main Street and all along business districts.
Let's "just have them everywhere so that people come here," she said. "Beautification and tourism would be tremendous."
The artist and business owner has finished 12 barn quilts for downtown businesses. She now has 12 in progress.
Using traditional quilt block names, such as "steps to the alter," "wild goose chase," and "Martha Washington's preferred spider web," Baker finds her designs in a book.
Her husband Joe helps out by building the framework for the square, cutting and sawing sheets of plywood.
Baker applies two coats of primer and transfers the design. She then paints and seals it with three coats of varnish.
She likes to stay busy, and her creativity extends to many forms of artwork.
"I'm just not very happy unless I'm creating things," Baker said.
Her downtown special is $70.
Taking a slightly different route, Julie Bretz and husband Perry of Lucas also work together to fashion barn quilt patterns out of solid wood. The pieces are then inserted into patterns.
"It funny how we got started, Julie Bretz said. "He was making furniture out of pallets and there were all of these scraps leftover. We didn't have anything to do with them, and they were too nice to throw in the furnace and burn."
"So I started painting and putting them in old window frames, and I sold a few.
"Perry liked what I was doing. He thought I needed some help, so he started cutting pieces and it started sort of by accident."
Also, Bretz' mother presented a craft magazine to her that had barn quilts in it. "We kind of took off from there and went crazy," she said.
A richly stained oak barn quilt hangs on her wall shaped in an original eight pointed star pattern, which took 16 hours between the two to make.
"We can't work one without the other," Bretz said. "He cuts everything, does all of the hard stuff, and I put the puzzles together."
Her designs are one-of-a-kind that have evolved over the year or so the couple has been making barn quilts.
"They just come out of here," she said, pointing to her head. "I don't know how it's going to look until it's done. "I throw in whatever I think is going to look good. Whatever appeals to me at that given moment, whatever mood I'm in."
The couple salvages wood pallets from a local company that are headed for the landfill. Some of the pallets are made from solid oak.
"It keeps us sane," she said. "It's an outlet."
Julie also finds sample patterns on Pinterest.
"It's crazy people have just gone nuts with it."
She sells her work for $25 to $250.
Call Bretz at (785)658-7193 or Baker at (785)483-2390.