From Trail to Gallery, the Vicksburg Quilt Trail Project Reaches Completion

By Dusti Lewars-Morton

Screen shot 2013-11-10 at 10.57.33 AMThe Vicksburg Quilt Trail (VQT) is a dream that’s about to come to a close…at least for now.  A new full-color tourist map is set to be made available to the public in mid-November that will contain the completed trail of 24 barn quilts.  The final four squares were installed as a ‘quilt gallery’ – the first of its kind in Michigan – at 11428 Portage Road, Portage (which still falls within the Vicksburg School District).

Those final four squares are, of course, something special, as they’ve been created by three quilting groups and the Vicksburg Quilt Trail Committee.

“This project had a beginning,” Kitch Rinehart the instigator of the VQT, says.  “It has to have an end.”

Quilt trails, composed of large squares of wood painted to look like traditional quilt design squares and usually displayed on barns, are a uniquely 21st century art form.  The first person to paint a quilt square on a barn was Donna Sue Groves in southern Ohio’s Adams County in 2001.  Her creative vision inspired people across the Midwest to do the same, and soon varied ‘quilt trails’ sprang up in a wide variety of communities.

In 2003, Kitch Rinehart of Vicksburg now, visited and took photos of the Athens County quilt barn trail near Cincinnati, Ohio.  Little did she realize that her collection of photos, set aside in an album and largely forgotten about for nearly ten years, would eventually take her on a quest to bring such a trail to Vicksburg.  “I pulled out those photos one day in 2011, thought about it, and when my husband came home, I said, ‘I’ve got something I’d like to do.  Don’t fall over.’”

Fortunately, it didn’t take much to convince Hugh that creating a Vicksburg Quilt Trail was a dream project worth investigating.  “No one knew what a quilt trail was at that point,” Kitch admits.  “We were speaking Greek.”   The Vicksburg Historical Society (VHS) embraced the project and gave the Vicksburg Quilt Trail a much-coveted non-profit status.  The Vicksburg Foundation granted the project a $2900 grant to cover supplies needed to actually create the squares and print a brochure.

Throughout 2012, locations were scouted out within the Vicksburg School District that might be suitable spots for this art installation.  The quilt trail committee approached the owners of these locations and asked if they’d like to be involved in the project; or, conversely, the committee was approached with prospective barns.  Sometimes the yes or no was a matter of looking at the location.

When an agreement was reached regarding a barn, the property owners were then given varied books and pamphlets containing images of quilt squares.  “We wanted people to choose designs that were meaningful to them,” Kitch explains.  Once a design was reached, the quilt trail committee – or, in most cases, Kitch herself – would sketch out the design on a large wooden square, and then the design would be painted by the barn owners, the quilt trail committee, neighbors, and friends.  In many ways, the painting of the squares became a sort of quilting bee.

Each barn owner has a five-year contract with the quilt trail committee.  At the end of that time, the owner is given the option to continue to participate, or the square may be taken down.  New owners of the property are given the same option.  Maintenance of the square itself is taken on by the quilt trail committee.

Kitch, with Sue Moore’s help, designed a small full-color pamphlet that contained a map of the Vicksburg Quilt Tour, along with descriptions of each square.  The pamphlet, distributed by both the quilt trail committee and local Vicksburg businesses, originally mapped out the locations of 12 squares. The second revision increased to 16 squares, and was recently updated with a manual insert to boost the count to 20 squares.  According to Kitch, 3500 copies have been printed and distributed so far, reflecting the very real interest quilt trails hold for tourists.  “Our target market is families and couples between 45 and 75 years old. However, our Facebook page shows we’re attracting the 35-year-olds, and we get calls every week for more brochures. Adding to this interest is the fact that one of the Vicksburg barns has been selected to be featured in a 2014 barn quilt calendar.  The Historical Society and the Village have been very helpful throughout the process,” Rinehart concluded

Final four quilts:

Vicksburg Library – Quilt-N-Friends – headed by Dawn Garrett – quilt square: friendship

Methodist Church – Sew What Now God? – headed by Kathy Phillips – quilt square: log cabin twisted

Hearthside Quilters – headed by Regina Richardson – quilt square: Michigan star (fall colors)

Vicksburg Quilt Trail Committee – Hugh & Kitch Reinhart, Keith & Karen Holt; Gil & Darlene Lynn, Dale & Lois Emaar – quilt square: double wedding ring

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