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Bullskin woman contributes to Pennsylvania Barn Quilt Trail

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Colleen Konieczny holds a barn quilt on display at the Mt. Pleasant Library. Konieczny has many examples of her craft throughout Mt. Pleasant.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A barn quilt sign by Colleen Konieczny along Main Street in Mt. Pleasant. Konieczny has many examples of her craft throughout Mt. Pleasant.

They are the hidden treasures along this region's back roads — barn quilts that beautify otherwise drab structures.

Colleen Konieczny, an artist from Bullskin, is striving to make the treasures a focal point for tourism.

The Pennsylvania Barn Quilt Trail is an extension of the American Quilt Trail, which was founded by Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio.

Groves, originally from Crede, W.Va., derived the idea from games she and her siblings played while traveling with their parents on vacation.

“When we were on road trips, we would spot and count barns instead of license plates,” Groves writes in “Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail,” a book she wrote with Suzi Parron. “There weren't enough other cars on the road to count license plates.”

During the trips, Groves saw a variety of barns, including Pennsylvania Dutch barns.

When Groves moved with her family to Adams County, she noticed that many barns in that area were plain — and it made her miss her native state.

One day, Groves remembered how her grandmother, an avid quilter, took some maple leaves and used them as patterns in quilts that she made for Groves and her other granddaughters. Groves thought that there must be a way to combine her love of quilting and her desire to bring beauty to her new community.

“I hoped that we would be able to preserve these stories about those who built the barns and the family farm stories and the quilts,” Groves recounted in “American Quilt Trail.”

“Of equal importance is the quilts in these families and the stories that go along with them. Preserving these stories will help us know where we came from and who we came from. ... We need to remember these stories; that's our DNA. May our larger community DNA connect us together, just like a quilt.”

Konieczny learned of the quilt trail from a magazine and realized its potential role in the region's growing tourism business.

“I realized that a quilt trail would bring people to this area — people who have money to spend,” she said. “It would instill pride in this community.”

Konieczny began documenting barn quilts in the area, as well as the family histories behind them.

Interest began to blossom.

She made one significant change to the way the barn quilts were made: Most were fashioned from plywood and required significant maintenance. Konieczny thought that if the barn quilts were made of a more durable medium— aluminum — they would last longer and need less maintenance.

The process of making a barn quilt starts by taking a picture of a favorite cloth quilt.

Heath Hoffner, Konieczy's cousin and owner/operator of Fayette Plasma Cut, scans the picture into a computer. The end result is an aluminum model of the quilt, which is covered in vinyl and assembled in pieces onto the structure.

There are more than 20 stops along the Pennsylvania Quilt Trail.

“The idea of a quilt trail was more popular out West,” said Konieczny. “It's just now becoming more popular in the East.”

Kathy Soliday of Connellsville loves her “Flying Geese” barn quilt.

“I had five, maybe six of my husband's grandmother's quilts,” she said. “I thought they were beautiful. I thought this quilt pattern would look good on my shed.”

Soliday had seen pictures of barn quilts at Konieczny's stand at the Bullskin Fair.

“I'm glad to know that I'm preserving history,” Soliday said.

Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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