Traditionally, quilts can be found draped across beds or chairs, or as historical and artistic markers that are framed and hung in museums.
But in Vicksburg, a small village just south of Kalamazoo, 24 colorful plywood quilts hang proudly on sides of barns and buildings for all to see.
The collective installations are all part of the Vicksburg Quilt Trail, which was spearheaded by creative enthusiast and Vicksburg resident Kitch Rinehart. She says that quilt trails have apparently been a "thing" for awhile, going back to one quilter's idea back Athens County, Ohio in 2001.
"A lady down there by the name of Donna Sue Groves went out and painted a quilt square on her mother's ugly dark tobacco barn," says Rinehart. "And she was a quilter so it decorated it up and one thing led to another and newspaper articles started getting written about it and they saw tourists coming in to Athens County. It spread like wildfire all over the Midwest."
At the same time, Rinehart, who has been quilting for over 20 years, and her husband Hugh were residing in Cincinnati. While there they were able to witness the idea unfold all over the region and beyond.
They relocated to Michigan in 2004, and four years later Rinehart was inspired to start a trail in Vicksburg. Her husband, Hugh, was on board, but the community was a little thrown off.
"We were talking Greek - we had to explain from step one what a quilt block was, what a barn quilt was, what a quilt barn was - but they all understand now," she says.
The Rineharts talked with the Vicksburg Historical Society, who loved using the idea as a community outreach project. They turned the project into a nonprofit, and were able to secure public and private donations to make the quilts possible. Each barn owner has signed a five-year display contract with the Historical Society, and chose what their quilt square would look like.
The quilt construction crew was spearheaded by Rinehart's husband. They go to great lengths to protect the plywood with heavy coats of primer and paint and lots of silicone caulk. The results are colorful, carefully planned squares that capture history, personality, and flair.
Like any type of tourist trail, the quilt trail map leads you around the town to explore these two dozen colorful squares. Authored by Rinehart herself, each square has a backstory on its designer and the meaning behind the squares.
The bright dark and light blue square named 'Drunkard's Path' replicates an old quilt from the barn owner's great-grandmother. It gets its name from the popularity of the Temperance Movement at the time. The vibrant shades of green, maroon, and brown in the square 'Corn and Beans on South 24th Street are a nod to the owner’s 3000 acres.
"I tell them 'Find something meaningful to you, 'cause you're going to be looking at it for five years. Find something that's going to be simple and bright. And finally make it pieceable - a sewer, a quilter, is going to want to sit down at her machine and she's going to want to replicate the quilts that she sees," Rinehart says.
The first twelve were up by the end of that year, and the trail itself was fully complete in December. Since its completion, the Rineharts have not been shy about spreading the word.
"We go out and give these presentations to the local quilt guilds in Sharlot and Lauten and Battle Creek, and they're starting to talk about their own personal quilts and their own quilt trails," she says. "So it is going to grow in this whole region of Southwest Michigan."