Craig County barn quilts: More than meets the eye

Travelers can drive the barn quilt trail.

CRAIG COUNTY, Va. – The Craig County Countryside is so beautiful, it doesn't need improvement.

Yet if you know where to look, you can find a splash of color, a bit of design.  Something familiar and rare all at once.

Barn quilts.

There are more than more than 100 spread across the county's countryside and beyond.

And every one of them has been painted by the same woman.

Martha Dillard demonstrates how she creates the pattern on sheets of aluminum designed to be used for commercial signs.  

After choosing a design, Dillard carefully tapes along the lines, so her pattern will be perfect and crisp. Dillard is the driving force behind Craig County's quilt movement.

For 35 years, she was a fine artist, creating beautiful works of art that she sold at shows and in galleries.  But when she tired of that she decided the answer to her lingering itch was barn quilts.

“I thought if maybe I could get 20 made that would be good,” Dillard said. “So 129 is a lot more than 20.”

So now Craig County has a barn quilt trail.  There's even a map.

Once out on the county’s roads, it’s obvious how the quilts have become a natural part of the scenery. The county is so rural there is little to no cell service. While it would be cause for alarm for most people these days, it’s something you forget when looking for barn quilts.

All these quilts have a story.  Like the “red bird” or cardinal painted on a barn with a big John Deere parked in front of it.

“When she was a child her mother told her to write a letter to Santa, and pin it to the clothesline. And then a red bird would take it up to Santa's place,” Dillard said.  

The owner still sees cardinals a bit differently than the rest of the world.

Barbara Charlton is the fourth generation to live on her land. The name of the pattern on her barn is Early Riser -- like her grandfather was.

“I think it's kind of put us on the map. Having this barn quilt,” she said.

“We lived here with him. And he was the first one up in the morning, 5 o'clock. Starting the fire. Getting ready to go out to feed the animals, milk the cows. And I thought that's the perfect barn quilt for me,” said Charlton, tears welling up in her eyes.

Down the road, Jeanette Kremer has two quilts.

One represents sunrise on the eastern divide which happens to be on her family farm. Rain on one side of her hill flows to the Mississippi.  On the other, to the Chesapeake Bay.

“And nothing is more beautiful than a sunrise on the great eastern divide,” she said.

Kremer has positioned her barn quilt so it’s highly visible to traffic.  

The image is not a traditional quilt pattern. It’s one of a kind designed by Kremer and Dillard, showing a beautiful sunrise.  They named it Sinking Creek Sunrise.

“I have had several people who said, ‘Yours is my favorite. I like it better than most of the others.’ And I go, 'Well, thank you,' so proudly,” said a grinning Kremer.

This trail was Dillard’s dream. She says she enjoys brightening people’s days.

"It makes people happy. They are proud of their property. They want to share with other people. They smile when they see them,” she said.

But as it turns out, there's another reason. Proceeds from the quilts go to support the Craig County library. All 785 square feet of it.

It doesn’t take long to tour the facility.  Dillard points to a well-used office chair. 

“This is our easy chair. Most libraries have a whole bunch of them. This is ours,” she said.

Dillard had hoped to raise maybe $1,000.  But in four years, those colorful splotches of color, attached to mostly old gray barns, have generated $11,000.

The librarian said she believed the total library budget to be around $30,000.  The money from Martha’s barn quilts, she said, allowed the library to buy computers and other equipment when they need it.

It seems to go full circle, from the stories behind each of the barn quilts, to the stories told in the many books in the tiny library.  Each now supporting the other.

All reasons to make barn quilts.  But, the best reason may be the simplest.

“I just know it makes people happy,” said Dillard. "And I like that a lot."

To learn more about the Craig County Barn Quilt Trail, click here:

Franklin County also has a trail:

Highland County Barn Quilt Trail:

About the Author:

John Carlin co-anchors the 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WSLS 10.