by Suzanne Labry
After Indiana became a state in 1816, people began moving to this new frontier by the thousands to start their lives afresh. Land was affordable and pioneers took on the task of clearing their new properties, planting crops, and settling down.
The state’s cold winters necessitated the building of barns to shelter livestock, house equipment, and store crops, and throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries in particular, barns became a familiar feature of the Indiana landscape.
The diversity of Indiana’s immigrants and settlers is reflected in the variety of barns that they built: round, square, rectangular, many-sided, and of various architectural styles. The fact that so many of these structures have endured and are still in use today reflects the skills and talents of their builders. Cathedral-like in their scale and beauty, these historic barns have become an iconic symbol of the North American heartland.
During 2016, the Indiana Bicentennial Barn Quilt was displayed at over 50 different venues across Indiana, including quilt shows, libraries, historic societies, the Indiana State Fair and several county fairs. Here it is shown in the rotunda of the Indiana State House. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Rahe.
There’s a problem, though. Built primarily of wood, Indiana’s barns are in constant need of maintenance, a necessity made even more demanding as the buildings age. Farm families work hard to conserve the barns, but doing so is difficult and expensive.
In 2014, a group of Hoosiers (the nickname for someone from Indiana) got together to help out, and they formed the Indiana Barn Foundation, dedicated to “Preserving Indiana’s Heritage, One Barn at a Time.” Believing that Indiana’s historic barns are an asset to the state’s cultural heritage, the nonprofit organization was established to help farmers struggling to maintain the barns on their properties.
To raise funds to help this effort and to coincide with the state’s bicentennial celebration, the Indiana Barn Foundation decided to make a quilt dedicated to showcasing Indiana’s barns and partnered with two other nonprofits, Indiana Landmarks and the Indiana State Quilt Guild, to do so.
The “Indiana Bicentennial Barn Quilt” attracted quilters from throughout the state to make 92 blocks, each depicting a traditional barn from an Indiana county. Joy William of the Indiana Barn Foundation was the project coordinator, Nancy Kauffman of Nappanee, Indiana determined the final placement of the blocks in the top, and members of the Indiana State Quilt Guild pieced them together.
Amish quilter Ruby Borkholder of Bremen, Indiana quilted the top by hand. Designated as a “Bicentennial Legacy Project” by the state government, the finished quilt traveled to each of the 92 counties throughout the bicentennial year in order to raise awareness of the threats to the state’s heritage barns. The Indiana Historical Society named the Indiana Bicentennial Barn Quilt the state’s Outstanding Bicentennial Collaborative Project.
Intended both to honor Indiana’s past and to help ensure that the state’s historic barns remain viable for the future, the Indiana Bicentennial Barn Quilt was auctioned in the state capital, Indianapolis, in March of 2017. Proceeds from the sale were used to set up an endowment to provide grants to barn owners to preserve Indiana's historic barns.
According to Carolyn Meyer Rahe, President of the Indiana Barn Foundation, “We think the Bicentennial Barn Quilt is an ideal reflection of Indiana's 200-year heritage, as it celebrates our people who have come together offering time, talents, and dedication to create a piece that so beautifully ties our past to our future. This quilt and the barns they represent will last well beyond 2016, and it is our hope that the Bicentennial Barn Quilt will inspire everyone whose lives it touches."
Quilt Coordinator, Joy William, admires the quilt in the frame ready to be quilted at the home of Amish quilter, Ruby Borkholder. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Rahe.