Not a stitch in sight – A pandemic hobby revives an old tradition

November 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

By Melissa Wagoner

When quarantine boredom came knocking during the spring of 2020, Adeline Schmitz and Jeff Marshall did something they never imagined they would do – they picked up paintbrushes and began to paint – barn quilts.

Barn Quilts artist Adeline Schmitz

Typically seen on barns, sheds, garages and even chicken coops – these large, wooden boards painted with brightly colored, often geometric designs have an estimated 300-year history on the east coast of the United States, especially among the Pennsylvania Dutch.

“If a guy built a barn and they would let him, he would leave his mark to get more business,” Marshall said of one of the original uses for these enormous calling-cards. “Then, during the Civil War, the barn quilts were how you knew you were on the right road.”

Eventually replaced by paid advertisements in the form of billboards, it seemed barn quilts were destined to fade into obscurity. But then, during the 20th Century, thanks to artisans on both sides of the country, they slowly began making a comeback.

“A lot of people do it because it looks pretty,” Schmitz – who began painting at the behest of her stepfather – said of today’s quilts which generally have less to do with navigation or advertisement and more to do with aesthetics.

Marshall agrees. 

“It’s the color,” he said. “They want a splash of color.”

Jeff Marshall painting in his Silverton workshop

But it’s more than a splash. Both Marshall and Schmitz use an array of vivid colors on each of their designs, allowing customers a say in what they like best. 

“That’s the fun part,” Marshall said, motioning toward his workbench, which is lined with bottles of paint in every hue. “And I usually try to talk them into the next bigger size – not to upsell – but the problem with the smaller ones is the details get lost.”

And he should know. Retired from commercial construction, Marshall has thrown himself into the hobby of painting barn quilts of all sizes along with peace poles and welcome signs, learning dozens of tricks along the way.

“The first time I gridded off the board,” Marshall said. Describing his initial method for achieving the straight lines and half square triangles used in most designs. “But now I just find the points and connect the points.

Along with changes in technique, the size and quality of his brushes and the type of paint he uses, the construction of the boards has altered as well. 

“If someone likes plywood, I can do that but I like wood – like cedar,” he said, showing off a new, unique style of quilt he has developed using beautiful, hardwood boards that show through the paint, becoming part of the design. 

But it’s no easy task. A four foot by four-foot quilt taking upwards of 20 hours to complete.

Jeff Marshall barn quilt

“I like going back and forth between them,” Schmitz said of her method, which allows her to work for several hours at a time, painting whichever project is dry. Adding, “It’s really nice because it’s flexible.”

A student at the University of San Francisco, Schmitz began painting when she returned to her parents’ home in Scotts Mills in 2020, but has continued to create during school breaks ever since. 

“I’m doing seven right now,” Schmitz said, standing amidst boards of all sizes outside her family’s barn this past July. “Then I have a really long winter break, so I’ll probably do a couple of them this winter.”

Having taken only a handful of painting classes during high school, Schmitz never would have envisioned herself a professional painter but upon the completion of her first barn quilt, she was hooked.

“I posted on Facebook to see if anyone wanted one,” she recalled. 

It turns out they did.

“I’ve done a great grandma’s quilt square, gifts during Christmas and an alpaca farm – I’m doing their logo,” she said pointing to a less traditional, more complicated square she designed for Alpacas on the Horizon in Scotts Mills. 

Marshall, too, has had no shortage of interest. Starting out with a booth at the Oregon Crafters Market, he has since expanded to the Stayton Farmers Market and Creative Corner on Main Street in Silverton as well. 

“I’ve done some shows and I’ve gotten some custom orders,” he confirmed, opening a binder in which dozens of possible quilt patterns are on display. Adding, “I do originals as well.”

And that is where he gets the most joy. While the patterns he finds online – largely traditional quilt patterns – are challenging the first time around, it is the unusual requests that bring out the true artist in him.

“You create something and the joy it brings… that’s real special,” he said.

Barn Quilts 

Jeff Marshall

Available at:
• Oregon Crafters Market
215 N. Water St., Silverton

• Creative Corner on Main Street
301 E. Main St., Silverton

  Custom Orders
barndogquilts@gmail.com 

Adeline Schmitz

Contact: addie11schmitz@gmail.com

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