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​The History of the Quilt Barn Trail

Sep 7, 2022

This month, eleven years ago, tropical storm Irene wreaked havoc along the watershed of the Schoharie Creek, devastating rural towns along the valley. Flood damage affected business, private homes, farmlands, and more. In response, thousands of New Yorkers banded together to help those in need.

One of those heroes was Ginny Schaum, local resident and former student of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her dedication to helping community dates back to some of her initial career work where she created clothing for people with disabilities, taking into consideration the frailties of the customer as well as the capabilities of their caretakers.

Sometime after the flooding and restoration efforts, Schaum was struck with an idea for regional recovery. Inspired by barn quilts scattered throughout her daughter's North Carolina community, Ginny wondered about the potential to introduce this concept to Schoharie County. With a charitable amount of assistance from Donna Sue Groves, the creator of the barn quilt trail movement, the idea started to become reality. Groves' Ohio Arts Council Quilt Barn Trail had been established for ten years and had conducted a comprehensive impact study that illustrated the positive economic, social and cultural effects their trail had on the local community. The data in that study was instrumental in recruiting social and financial support amongst Schoharie County decision-makers.

While the media coverage on the destruction to the community was helpful in recruiting much-needed assistance, it also hindered people's perception of the area as a welcome place to visit. Establishing a Quilt Barn Trail would be a great way to engage the local community, commission artists, and eventually, restore tourism. Adding artwork to historic architecture was an opportunity to tell the world that Schoharie County had built back better and was open for business.

With the support of the officials, the committee opened an application period for residents and business owners to suggest their properties as hosts for the new Schoharie County Quilt Barn Trail. Much to their surprise, they doubled their goal number of applications and started a wait list. In the first year, twenty blocks were installed and the preparation for another 20 began. The Trail now has 141 blocks, each one unique from the rest and custom made.

A sizeable challenge for many rural projects is often lack of a sizeable budget. This means that Ginny needed to be creative in getting the word out about the Trail. This is how the “Quilt Mobile" was conceptualized. She dreamt of a quilt to cover her car, so that local promotion at events, festivals and parades would be eye-catching. Using social media, she requested orphan blocks from unfinished objects, or UFOs as she endearingly called them, and quilters from all over mailed the orphan blocks in response. Using her background in fashion design, she drafted a pattern to fit her car, then created the custom quilt, complete with fabric license plates. Despite a brief run-in with the authorities on its maiden voyage, the car was incredibly successful as an affordable promotional tool.

In addition to the quilt mobile, she hosted the “Airing of the Quilts" event in which the entire County was encouraged to hang fabric quilts of their own outside for all to see. The colors of the quilts shone brightly among the fall foliage. Then too, local photographer, Deb Bechtold the creative behind the famous Facebook page Visions of Schoharie Valley, exhibited photos of numerous quilt blocks in Albany International Airport's Air & Culture program in 2016.

Schaum is putting the final touches on her book which outlines the origin of quilt barn trails, the Schoharie Trail as a microcosm of the quilt barn trail movement, and her personal reflections on the entire process. She aspires to launch Barn Quilts - Folk Art to Modern Obsession in time for the holidays, which will be available on Amazon and at select local retailers.

If anyone is willing to park their Ford Focus at the fairgrounds for the “Art Gallery of Barn Quilts", Ginny no longer drives the original quilt mobile and they need a “mannequin". This Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration will occur 2-5pm and feature live music by John Florussen. Susan Harker, who painted the sixteen barn quilts that represent each different township in Schoharie County, will present the concept behind the design of each. Susan's father, Doug Cater, is long-time (Sunshine) Fair Director and President.

An impact study has not been done for the Schoharie Trail, but based on feedback from the community, it has attracted numerous visitors who patronize local businesses in their wake.

“There's a lot of joy in what we have done. It's been so productive. It makes so many people happy" says Ginny with a big smile on her face.

Pictured: The original SCQBT committee - Bonnie Morton, Lin Quinn, Ginny Schaum,

Sharon Aitchison, Betty Pillsbury

Photo credit: Bill Morton (absent)