Maybe it's because my maternal grandparents were farmers, but I'll take a view of a barn over a skyscraper any day.
And when you dress that barn up home with a painted quilt square, why, that just makes my day. Especially when I see those squares on the three-hour-plus drive from my home in Madison down to Cedar County, Iowa, to visit my 87-year-old mother.
Here in Wisconsin, we have plenty of these barn quilts dotting the countryside, too. And there is perhaps no better place to see them than Green County, where more than 120 farm buildings have been gussied up with these artistic additions.
Lynn Lokken, who got the ball rolling in her county along with co-conspirator Kris Winkler in 2008, said this form of Americana is relatively new.
Quilting dates back to the Middle Ages, but Lokken said Donna Sue Groves of Adams County in southern Ohio was one of the first to paint a quilt pattern on an American barn 11 years ago.
"She did it to honor her mother and grandmother, both of whom were avid quilters," explained Lokken, who said Groves used a "snail trail" pattern for that first quilt block.
Groves also did it because she'd bought a place in Appalachia that had a wooden tobacco barn that she considered ugly, Lokken said.
"So she put a quilt square on it to make it look nicer. And now there are barn quilts in 48 states. The practice just took off."
Lokken said she got the idea for Green County after a young woman, whose parents lived in Omaha, Neb., came back to Monroe mightily impressed with the quilt squares she'd seen on barns along I-80 in Iowa.
She said, "You've got to do that here."
Although the quilt squares in southern Ohio were painted directly on the barns, Lokken said only one has been done that way in Green County.
"It's hard to control the quality doing like that," she said. "You don't really know what's under the surface of the barn wood. We paint on three-quarter-inch exterior plywood, mount them on a frame and then hang 'em up."
Lokken said she and Winkler got the instructions on how to do the barn quilts from a 4-H member in Sac County, Iowa, who had prepared the plans for a club project.
"We just followed his directions," she said. "We figured if a 4-H guy could do it, we could, too. Besides, we're old 4-H members, so we're kinda gung-ho about that stuff."
Lokken said the quilt blocks celebrate the visual arts and the important role the county's barns have played in the Green County economy over the decades.
The quilt blocks are 8 feet by 8 feet, big enough to be seen easily from the road. Green County Barn Quilt Committee members prime the boards and lay out and tape off the patterns. Volunteers sometimes participate in painting the blocks.
The first quilt square installed was on the "county barn" at the Pleasant View Complex on Highway 81 near Monroe.
Some residents at the nearby nursing home helped paint the pattern, dubbed "Whirly Gig," which resembles windmills on the farms where many of them grew up.
The pattern has portions of white interspersed around the border of the square. Because it is set against the white background of the barn, the block seems to spin when seen from a distance.
A black-and-white pattern called "Dove at my Door" stands out in contrast to the deep red barn on which it is painted off Highway Y west of Monroe. A red-and-white pattern called "Swiss Star" honors the Swiss lineage of the barn owner on a farm off Highway 69 north of Monroe.
Many of the other barn quilts in the county have star themes in them.
Lokken, who grew up on a Green County dairy farm, said she is a quilter who has long been enamored with barns. Winkler is also a quilter.
"I don't think any barns are ugly, even the ones that are falling down," she said. "But this is a way to make any barn look prettier."
Lokken said the barn quilt effort allows her to express her "artistic bent."
"I also figured this was a way to attract people to our county to drive our back roads and stop in the little villages around here. And you know what? It's worked."
Lokken said maps to all the barn quilts are available at the many cheese factories that dot the Green County landscape.
"In fact, the centerfold of the county tourism guide is the barn quilt map," she said.
Although Lokken no longer lives on a dairy, she does have a garage. So she put a quilt block on it. The same for Winkler, who put one on a shed.
"You can't see them all in one day," Lokken said of the barn quilts. "That would be exhausting. But with the map and a little planning, you could do a circle tour and see 30 in an afternoon. Then plan to do something else, like stop in at a cheese factory."
She said one of the more striking quilt squares is on a round barn that is part of the Ten Eyck family's apple orchard off Highway 11 southwest of Brodhead. It's the only round barn in the county and required bending the wood.
"It was also a tricky one to draw," she said. "But my daughter, who is an artist, drew the apples and leaves, because that is their trademark."
Lokken said her favorite barn quilt is on county Road SS on the way from her home to Brodhead, where her daughter lives.
"It's called 'Sunshine in the Valley,' " she said. "It's on a farm owned by Don and Joan Sherfield and the quilt is very bright. It really does light up the valley. I always have to smile when I crest a little hill and see it."
Brian E. Clark is a Madison writer and photographer.
Proud to be square
For more quilt photos, go to jsonline.com/photos.
IF YOU GO
Green County is on the Illinois border, a little more than 100 miles southwest of Milwaukee via I-43 and Highway 81.
To order the Green County barn quilt guide, call (888) 222-9111, or visit greencountybarnquilts.com .
The tourism website, www.greencounty.org, also has information on dining, lodging, shopping and visiting cheese factories in Green County.