Vicki Burnett of Starkville put Oktibbeha County on the map. The Barn Quilt Trail map, that is.
“I went to a workshop one time, and a lady painted a barn quilt into one of her paintings,” she said. “It was just really kind of intriguing, and that’s when I first learned what a barn quilt was.”
Burnett, a board member for the Starkville Area Arts Council, learned of the painted quilts and saw potential in the oversized geometric designs for a county-wide project promoting the arts.
“I appreciate antique quilts, and I just wanted to give a nod to that art of quilt making,” Burnett said. “I was trying to come up with a way to highlight some of the best things about Starkville and get people out into our beautiful county.”
A barn quilt usually takes the form of a single-block quilt design painted on a four-by-four- or eight-by-eight-foot piece of plywood or metal. The finished product is hung on the side of a barn, fence, home or business, and some are propped against the outside wall of a structure. A string of barn quilts concentrated in an area form a barn quilt trail.
After Burnett discovered the quilts, she decided she wanted her art studio to feature one. She researched the artistic displays while deciding on a design, and realized only a few states at the time lacked barn quilt trails. Mississippi was one of them.
The first barn quilt trail popped up in Adams County, Ohio, in 2001, and more than 4,000 barn quilts now find homes in quilt trails across the nation.
Mississippi has found its place on that Barn Quilt Trail map with trails in 12 counties across the state.
In 2013, Burnett proposed to the SAAC that Starkville begin a trail, and the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail arose from her efforts.
She and her husband painted a quilt for her property, and other business owners, such as Dawn Herring, a Starkville resident and owner of Boardtown Gardens & More, followed suit.
“We sell local art, so I thought that would be a perfect fit to show outward that we love art,” Herring said.
Mississippi State University design students painted Herring’s quilt.
She said her barn quilt, which she has had for about a year, draws people in.
It hangs on the front, chain link fence of the business. Its colorful design boasts nine squares, each with multicolored trees.
Herring said she wanted a design featuring trees to tie the artwork to the plants and shrubs she sells. She wanted the piece to highlight multiple aspects of her business.
“I had thought something with trees and just kind of let [the students] go from there,” Herring said.
Like Herring’s quilt, roughly half of the quilts in Oktibbeha County are painted by students in MSU art professor Neil Callander’s design classes.
“I love that this project benefits Oktibbeha County, but even more importantly my students gain so much,” Callander said. “From the beginning this has been a win-win-win project and it is only going to get bigger and better.”
Other community groups, such as the Friends with the Refuge and Boy Scouts of America’s Troop 14, have also contributed to the trail effort.
Burnett now has two quilts, one of which MSU students painted.
Herring and Burnett are both stops on Oktibbeha County’s “Road to the Quilts.”
Oktibbeha’s Barn Quilt Trail has been in place for three years and now boasts around 26 registered quilts scattered throughout the county.
Other quilt trail sites include the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, Starkville’s Community Market and the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge.
“I just thought it would be so cool if we could feature some of the best things about Oktibbeha County,” Burnett said. “I thought it would be so fun to have a quilt trail that [people unfamiliar with Starkville] could follow, almost like a scavenger hunt.”