A Block of Heritage

Story by Susan Chesser

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Travelers across the U.S. have noticed a trend that originated in the rural Amish communities of Ohio and Pennsylvania — painted wood quilt blocks identifying homesteads and barns. A wood quilt block affixed to a barn or building tells a visitor a little about the heritage of a homestead of its people. And, as if you needed another reason for a road trip, finding unique painted quilt blocks along a state’s “quilt block trail” gives the traveler an excuse to visit even more places.

The quilt makers among you, or those with quilt makers in the family, are probably familiar with quilt blocks. These are the smaller blocks of patterned fabric that, when sewn together, make up a quilt. Wooden quilt blocks are simply another medium for those comforting and often symbolic patterns to adorn. Two River Valley women would like to see more Pope County homes and businesses added to the Arkansas Quilt Block Trail (AQT) brochure. Pope County AQT Coordinator Deanna Bohanan of Hector and quilt block enthusiast Sharla Hartzell of Dover are eager to share their fervor for quilt blocks with everyone. These ladies are on a mission to see the unique designs on homes, businesses and fence posts throughout the Arkansas River Valley.

“Your homestead quilt block preserves your history,” Sharla explains. “It tells your story of your home.” A big fan of quilt blocks from traveling through Mountain Home and other areas, Sharla came home after a trip and created a wooden quilt block of her own. Her patriotic theme on one of the Hartzell Homestead Mercantile and Creative Studio blocks is representative of the American dream, as her retail and craft studio are a dream come true for her. She also crafted a second quilt block utilizing the green and gold colors of Arkansas Tech University as a nod to our local institute of higher learning.

Sharla loves quilt blocks so much that she teaches workshops and individual crafters how to create their own unique family block. Her retail and creative studio space has everything available for someone to design and paint their own quilt blocks. While quilt blocks don’t have to be square or a set size, there are templates and pre-cut boards with grooves that crafters can make into their own unique design. “You can take a template star design, change the colors and add patterns to make it your own,” Sharla says. “Some designers have used the LaMoyne star that reflects their Louisiana heritage.” Sharla also notes that stars can vary from one geographic area to another.>>

Every home has a story
Many people assume their home doesn’t have a story, but Deanna says yes, they do. Deanna uses her own creation as an example. “My quilt block has a design of the four colors of the maple leaf with a cabin in the center,” she says, explaining that it’s representative of two family properties which were established in 1881 and 1947. The cabin on the quilt block represents the cabin that her husband’s father was born in. It still stands on family land. “Even if the property is sold, it will still be known as the Bohanan Field,” she says. The maple leaves represent the family’s later home that is located on Maple Street in Hector.”

Deanna painted the block herself using high-grade treated plywood and a good exterior paint. Then she applied sealer to ensure a piece of durable artwork that people can see on the front of the homestead.

A day trip to find quilt blocks
“Folks take day trips to view the homestead quilt blocks in the state,” Deanna says. Ozark Mountain counties such as Searcy and Baxter have several. And while the original intent of quilt blocks may have been to identify the family farm, today the art of preserving history and  telling the story of the homestead is the primary purpose. Deanna says that Johnson and Yell Counties have also joined in on the quilt block action, noting a quilt block at the foot of Mount Nebo with a primitive crow as its centerpiece.

Sharla encourages businesses to join in on the trail as they can use a quilt block to tell their story and utilize their logo in their design. Also, being on the trail guide can encourage tourists to stop, shop and eat. “Quilt blocks can be customized to make them fit to a farm or a business. Some towns are using them for historical reasons,” she says. “Quilt Blocks can take on many stories. And, the trails can give an economic boost to local business. It shows they are interested in investing in their community.”

Getting started with a quilt block of your own
Deanna says that if you want to create a quilt block that will be approved for the Arkansas Quilt Block Trail brochure, to first contact her. “They don’t like duplicate designs,” she explains. “As a county coordinator, I serve as a filter to see if a design meets criteria and is unique to the trail.”

As for tools and supplies, other than a sturdy wood base and frame, a straight edge ruler is essential. Deanna advises, whether using a projector or hand drawing your design, to utilize a straight edge ruler and painter’s tape. She said the wood can be solid or a good quality MDF board, and it’s best to use outdoor or chalk paint along with a good sealer. She notes that paint layers will need lots of drying time. Once complete, designers can submit their project to the Arkansas Quilt Block Trails for approval.

“While they originated on the side of barns, they can be affixed to buildings, fences, business signs and even houses,” she says. To be listed on the trail, submissions must be reviewed for the following criteria: It must be viewable from the road, it should preserve history, the designer must own the property, the designer must agree to display the quilt block for five years, and it must tell the story that goes with its pattern.

If designers prefer to not fly solo, Sharla welcomes them to her crafting studio at Hartzell Homestead where she has everything they need to create heaped with a topping of design ideas and advice. “We talk about their design, if there is any history, and where it came from,” Sharla says. “I love teaching how to paint quilt squares.” New quilt block creators can paint their squares there or they can buy what they need and take it home to paint. Sharla encourages would-be quilt block designers to find a quilt design they love or a story they want to represent. “What does your family like to do? Do they hike? You can add a trail with trees. If you are patriotic, your design can reflect that. You can design a wood block in memory of someone who served (in the military) and even add names.”

She specifically recalled a patriotic quilt block framed with a gold medal. “Some designers like to replicate heirloom quilt designs, adding or changing colors, and even adding to a pattern,” Sharla says. “For the barn quilt blocks, maybe they have memories of a grandmother quilting a particular quilt and they want that block up on there. Some of them custom make them to fit their farm.”

Making the Arkansas Trails Brochure
“There are three listed quilt blocks in Pope County,” explains Deanna, expressing a desire to see more people apply for quilt blocks of their own. Besides her quilt block, the other two are located on the side of the Hartzell Homestead. In order to be listed in the next AQT brochure, Pope County needs 12 approved quilt block designs by October 2021.

“Crafting a quilt block is a labor of love,” explains Sharla . “You take something that means something to you. When it’s done, you have preserved history. You have shared your story.”

If you’re interested in more information about designing your own Homestead Quilt, contact Deanna Bohanan at popecountyquiltrails@gmail.com ) or via text to 479-223-9411

You can also visit the Pope County Quilt Trail Facebook page and the Arkansas Quilt Trail website and trail brochure by visiting www.arkansasquilttrails.com. In addition, Arkansas Quilt Trail brochures are available at welcome centers throughout the state and places of business that cater to travelers.