Once Sandy Howard, ’78 retired from a “most rewarding career” as a teacher and principal after more than 40 years, she began looking for new ways to use her talents and discovered barn quilts.
For Howard, “the history behind them” is what makes barn quilts unique and special. A barn quilt is a large piece of plywood painted in geometric quilt-like patterns typically displayed on the front or side of a barn. Barn quilts began in 2001 when Donna Sue Groves painted and hung such a quilt outside of her barn to honor the life of her mother, a traditional quilter. As the movement grew, it became about bringing economic opportunities for rural communities through the advertising of scenic barn quilt trails and preserving the rich histories of family farms and quilting.
Howard credits Stephen Salmon, a professor at the Lillington campus of Central Carolina Community College, and Dr. Burgess Marshbanks, ’42 a retired dentist in Buies Creek, with her newfound passion for barn quilts. Howard was introduced to this relatively new form of art through several courses she took with Salmon, who asked his students to design and paint their own barn quilts. Howard took inspiration from Dr. Marshbanks, a painter of barn quilts known for donating his creations, and now shares her own quilts. Howard embraced Marshbanks’ example of generosity with a recent barn quilt made for the Cornelia Campbell Alumni House, displayed on the side of the Alumni House on Leslie Campbell Ave.
Howard is a part of the Harnett County Barn Quilt & History Trail Committee, which intends to attract tourists and boost the economy of the rural region with the creation of a barn quilt trail. Through the combined efforts of Howard and fellow Campbell alumni, as well as several other members, the trail is continually being expanded.
“We go around to the countryside, just run around Harnett County, and look at old barns to see…would a barn quilt would look pretty on it.”
The trail now includes museums, barns, homes, & other historical and scenic locations. Their Facebook community has also expanded. People post pictures of their barn quilts and tag the Harnett County Barn Quilt Initiative as well as encourage each other to add to the trail.
The artistry involved in making barn quilts and the excitement of her recipients have both brought her joy. Barn quilts allow Howard to express her creativity and continue “making other people happy.”