October 19, 2005 | By: Aimee Nielson

A tri-state effort among Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee is seeking to draw tourists off the interstates and into rural Appalachia to experience the region’s unique culture.

Called “Clothesline of Quilts,” the project involves painting quilt squares and murals of rural life on barns and other structures along roadways throughout the Appalachian region in each state, including in nine eastern Kentucky counties. The project began in Ohio when Ohio Arts Council member Donna Sue Groves painted a quilt square on a barn in honor of her mother, a lifelong quilter. She wrote grants and raised funds to paint 20 squares in her home county of Monroe, Ohio. Kentucky and Tennessee soon joined the project in hopes of creating a “Clothesline of Quilts” driving trail.

“Donna Sue Groves says that people come from all over the country to see their quilt squares because it’s tying together the home and the farm life,” said Gwenda Adkins, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Elliott County. “You know, the wife was a lot of times in the home, and quilting was a big part of her life. The man was out farming and the children with him, and this is kind of tying that together and saying look at us and look at our culture.”

Extension has partnered with Gateway Resource Conservation and Development and several other agencies to make sure the project is successful in eastern Kentucky.

“In Elliott County, there are not a lot of community development organizations so Extension has taken that lead,” Adkins said. “This promises to be a huge component of a project we started several years ago. If we get the funding, we’ll have enough for 30 quilt squares and 20 murals of cultural life, such as a haystack or a tobacco field, that will be painted on barns and other structures.”

Adkins said volunteers from the community and Gateway RC&D have been a crucial part of the project’s initial success and will continue to play a key role. Lois Greene volunteered to help with the project by offering suggestions for quilt patterns and colors.

“We wanted themes that had to do with nature and farm life, so Turkey Tracks (a quilt pattern) came to mind,” she said. “I love red and white so that’s how the colors came to be (for one of the featured squares).”

Vivian Brown, also a volunteer, believes the project may help bring in tourists and drive economic development for the counties involved.

“I think it will increase tourism because it will get the vacationers off the main highways and into the country,” Brown said. “I’m hoping it will develop into some local businesses so that people can stay at home and make a living.”

Adkins echoed Brown’s sentiments. “Hopefully, the people will get off the fast-paced interstate and really experience what Appalachia is about instead of just driving through it,” she said. 

Adkins also said that recent research shows that the quilting market is growing rapidly and that total quilters in the United States now exceed 21 million, representing a 50 percent growth since 1997. She said with each quilter spending an average of nearly $140, the estimated dollar value of the quilting industry stands at $2.27 billion. Those numbers are encouraging to Adkins and her volunteers because it means more people are interested in quilting and perhaps that will bring them to see the squares and murals in eastern Kentucky.

The nine Kentucky counties participating in the project are Bath, Montgomery, Rowan, Carter, Menifee, Morgan, Elliott, Lewis and Greenup. Several other counties have plans to work with the project as well.



Writer: Aimee Nielson 859-257-4736, ext. 267

Contact: Gwenda Adkins 606-738-6400