Barn Quilt Trail

The concept is trendy. It’s spreading across the United States and Canada. Yet, the idea helps celebrate this region’s Appalachian heritage.

To pull it off, some Smyth County students are collaborating with professional artists, local tourism officials, businesses and other entities – and, of course, their schools and teachers.

Students in the county’s Enrichment Resource Program (ERP), a branch of the Gifted and Talented Program, are working to develop a barn quilt driving trail throughout the county. The students, who have spent the year learning about Appalachian culture, heritage and local history, want to encourage local residents and visitors to explore this community’s beautiful mountains.

In a grant application she wrote to help with the project, ERP teacher Crystal Farley said, “Our mission is to preserve and grow rural culture through education. Students will network with local community associations and citizens to gain support for the barn quilt trail. Student ambassadors will gain leadership and public speaking skills, which will serve them greatly in future endeavors. They will effectively collaborate with peers and county leaders to accomplish a common goal. Students will become aware of the economic development process and creatively solve problems to promote our unique Appalachian assets and local gems.”

The project is expected to promote local architecture, geography, history and people, while bolstering tourism. 

“Most importantly,” Farley wrote, “this project will instill a sense of pride in Smyth County while promoting union and teamwork for a common goal.”

Barn quilt trails have taken off in popularity in recent years and have been introduced in 48 states and Canada.

Students are hands on with all aspects of creating the trail. They’ve painted dozens of barn quilts – 12”x12” hand-painted wooden blocks that would typically be displayed on the front of a barn. They’ve written poetry exploring the theme of “I am….” They’re developing brochures with information about the quilts, the trail and a trail map that also includes information about local historic sites and geologic features. Also, the students are working together to create technological components to support the project.

Farley’s passion for the subject came through when she said, “We encourage all citizens to develop an appreciation for our Appalachian culture. We must begin to think differently and approach our challenges in unique ways. We must act responsibly: Together, our passion and perseverance will create lasting change. We will make a difference, starting right here at home. Born of mountains, we will rise.”

Many of the students’ 94 barn quilts are already hanging in local businesses, the county visitors’ center in Chilhowie and the Virginia Welcome Center at Exit 1 on Interstate 81 in Bristol.

At Monday evening’s Marion Town Council meeting, Ken Heath, director of community and economic development, described finding the quilts as a treasure hunt.

Many will be on display Friday evening as the introduction of the trail kicks off the Appalachian Spirit Gallery’s 2019 season and its series of Second Friday ArtWalks. The May 10 walk will run from 5-8 p.m.

The art walk will also feature street buskers performing and a concert at the Main Street gallery at 6 p.m. featuring master banjo and guitarist Jim Lloyd.

Lloyd is a Rural Retreat barber, musician, presenter, music teacher, banjo historian and radio host. His latest release, Play Guitar in Seven Days, captures the Doc Watson-like variety of music that he interprets through his mountain lens.

A multi-instrumentalist best known for his banjo and guitar work, Lloyd’s musical roots go back through at least four generations of fiddlers, guitar players, dancers and singers from the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. His uncle Buddy Pennington played banjo with Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys in 1958 and 1959.

An instrumentalist whose work has been documented by the Smithsonian Institute as representative of southwestern Virginia mountain music and storytelling, Lloyd is known especially for his skills on guitar (finger-picking style) and banjo (claw-hammer and two-finger styles). Lloyd shares his heritage not only by performing, but as a teacher to many local students, including those in the Henderson JAM program.

The concert is free and open to the public, but listeners are urged to bring chairs or blankets for lawn seating. The concert will be moved inside in the case of inclement weather.

During the art walk, students will introduce their barn quilts and read from their “I Am…” poetry collection.

The gallery is run by the Appalachian Spirit Artists Association, a 501(c)3 organization composed of artisans who share jobs to fulfill the group’s mission to celebrate the arts, traditions, lore and spirit of the Appalachian Mountains by demonstrating the work of local talent.

The monthly Second Friday art walks run from May through December. The Appalachian Spirit Gallery is at 144 W. Main Street, Marion.

The activities are free.

For more information, visit the gallery on Facebook and Instagram at Appalachian Spirit Gallery or call 276-706-2909.

Anyone interested in helping with the Barn Quilt Trail should email crystalfarley@scsb.org

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