On the Trail
David and Ruthann Kerns on the road.
The Kerns show off their quilt scrapbook..
Quilter Ruthann Kern grew up on a farm in Iowa, and according to her husband, David, “barns are in her blood and she never met a barn she didn’t like.”
She enjoyed taking pictures of barns whenever she found one that piqued her interest. David’s career in the U.S. Air Force took them all over the world, and even after he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and took up a second career as an academic teaching ROTC and aviation technology, the nomadic couple took advantage of every opportunity to pack their bags and visit other places.
When Ruthann and David both retired for good in 1999, their “bucket list” included visiting all the countries they’d never been to before. Wherever their travels took them, Ruthann would seek out barns to photograph, even in remote places around the globe. After they completed their must-see international destinations, they starting touring around North America.
Imagine Ruthann’s delight then, when on a road trip to Colorado to visit their son, she and David happened to stop at a highway visitor’s center and she saw a brochure featuring picturesque barns in Sac County, Iowa. As if that weren’t enough, each of the barns was adorned with a quilt block.
The brochure detailed Sac County’s contribution to the American Quilt Trail, a public arts movement started in 2001 by Donna Sue Groves (see Quilt Raising) that has spread throughout the United States and Canada. “That brochure just jumped out at me,” Ruthann recalls. “It combined two of the things that interest me most—barns and quilts!”
And so began what has become almost a second career—albeit a fun one—for the now Illinois-based Kerns: following the American Quilt Trail and photographing the structures on which the quilt squares are placed (mostly barns, although some squares can be found on other iconic architectural elements).
Beginning in September of 2006, Ruthann and David visited those Sac County quilt barns, followed by the quilt barn trail in Grundy County, Iowa. Since that first foray, they have “done” trails in Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia, Colorado, and Nebraska, and have plans to visit those in Southern Wisconsin, Northern Indiana, Montana, Oregon, and California. They attended the Quilt Trail Gathering, held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the movement in its birthplace, Adams County, Ohio, in May of 2011.
According to David, “It’s not just about the quilts and barns. Most folks who have a quilt square on their barn are eager to talk about it, because there is a story behind every one of them. We have met and gotten to know so many wonderful people. Sometimes just finding the quilt squares is an adventure in itself and that is part of the fun for us. I love to drive and Ruthann loves to navigate and we’ve gotten to test our GPS skills. It’s amazing what can be a treat when you are retired!”
And what to do with all those photographs? Why, scrapbook them, of course! Ruthann had long been making scrapbooks of all their travels, and she was still working on documenting the last of their international trips when they began following the Quilt Trail.
Deciding she needed help, Ruthann hired the couples’ daughter, Kris, an “excellent scrapbooker” in her own right, to take on that task. Ruthann and Dave brought Kris’s handiwork with them to the Quilt Trail Gathering, to the delight of all in attendance.
In June of 2011, the Kerns celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary by returning to Adams County, Ohio to photograph some additional quilt squares that have been added to the Trail there. They were joined by Nina Maxine Groves, the mother of both Donna Sue Groves and the Quilt Trail Movement itself, who acted as their guide as they continue to pursue this new chapter of their lives: following the Trail.
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Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
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Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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