Kathryn Blair found a way to combine her love of quilting, family time, the golf course she owns and operates, and her family history all into one brightly colored package.
Blair, who owns and operates Bretwood Golf Course in Keene with her husband, Michael, learned about the tradition of barn quilts three years ago when author Suzi Parron visited the Cheshire Quilters’ Guild (of which Blair is a member) to give a talk in 2018. Parron’s book is “The Barn Quilt Trail” and she also creates calendars featuring barn quilts.
Intrigued, Blair and her husband wanted to learn more and visited northern Vermont for a weekend to see some of these creations peppered around the landscape. Blair, whose maiden name is Barrett, grew up on the dairy farm that existed on the golf course property before a fire in 1967 damaged buildings and her father, Ellis Barrett, decided to build the golf course on the 200-plus-acre property.
A barn quilt is a representation of a cloth quilt, painted on wood or metal and mounted publicly for passersby to enjoy. Cloth quilts are made up of a series of blocks of the same pattern together; a barn quilt is almost always a single block.
The barn quilt movement began with Donna Sue Groves and her wish to honor her mother and Appalachian heritage by having a painted quilt on her barn in Adams County, Ohio. She suggested a sampler of 20 quilt squares could be installed on barns along a driving trail through the county. Her first barn quilt, created in an Ohio Star pattern, was dedicated in 2001.
From Groves’ idea, more than 200 communities have created more than 14,000 painted quilts across 48 states and three Canadian provinces. In many of those communities, an organizing group such as an arts council, quilt guild, 4-H club or group of residents organizes their barn quilts into a mapped trail.
While a theme isn’t necessary to follow in making a barn quilt, Blair wanted to honor the history of her family and the farm, and of the golf course still in operation today in creating the three quilts on display at Bretwood.
The first one she designed was inspired by the Corn and Beans quilt pattern. The quilt, hung on the south side of her father’s old shop at the 18th hole North Course, commemorates the variety of crops grown on Bretwood’s rich soil through which the Ashuelot River meanders. Blair’s father, Ellis, and his brother, Toby, began farming together on the land in the spring of 1950: corn, hay and alfalfa crops were grown in the fields to feed the dairy cows. Bretwood now specializes in turf, which covers the course that was built starting in the fall of 1967. Nine holes opened in 1968 and 18 holes opened for play a year later.
The many colors on this barn quilt reflect the blue sky, green grass, yellow sun, orange for the fire that changed everything on June 22, 1967; and red for the years of hard work (the blood, sweat and tears, said Blair) that went into working first the farm and then the golf course through today; and purple for the courage and perseverance to build a golf course with limited resources on the land.
The fire in 1967 was caused by spontaneous combustion of the first cut of hay that had gotten moisture in it inside the barn.
“My family got all the animals out safely,” said Blair. “All the farmers in Cheshire County after they milked their cows that day were all here with trucks and bulldozers to help. The women brought food. It was an amazing day.”
On the north side of the old shop hangs Carpenter’s Wheel, the name of the quilt and of the pattern featured. It is in honor of Blair’s father, who built the shop in the early 1950s shortly after Bretwood Farm was established. Ellis Barrett also designed and built the four large covered bridges over the Ashuelot River, three smaller covered bridges on the south course, snack shack and snack shed, using lumber milled on his portable sawmill—and starting at age 70. The patriotic red, white and blue colors in the flag are to honor all active military personnel and veterans, including Ellis Barrett, Navy pilot/flight instructor (World War II) and Toby Barrett, lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Korea.
The Corn and Beans quilt project began this April: it’s one of two 4-by-4-foot barn quilts Blair created. That one and Carpenter’s Wheel were both completed in May, thanks to help laying out shapes in a grid and painting her family members provided.
Each of the three barn quilts was painted on three-quarter-inch plywood using two coats of what Blair said is the same as what artists The Walldogs used to paint the murals in downtown Keene. After graphing each design, she painted the quilts using a coat of primer and two coats of white (and tape to keep it from seeping).
Last but far from least, the largest barn quilt at Bretwood is Radiant Star, once again the name of the quilt and the pattern featured, on the wall of a refurbished red barn at the 17th hole of the north course.
This barn quilt, said Blair, she created to celebrate the radiant star Bretwood Golf Course is in the golf industry and the local economy. The course, she added, has two championship 18-hole courses open to the public and brings golfers to Keene from throughout the Northeast and frequently hosts state, regional and national tournaments. The 8-by-8-foot barn quilt pattern contains 72 diamond shapes, which Blair said coincidentally coincides with the fact both north and south courses are par 72.
Once again, the colors represent the Bretwood landscape seen during the four seasons of the year, from the green grass and trees to the sky and water, flowers, autumn leaves, and the white blanket of snow in the winter.
After Blair’s husband painted and renovated her father’s old shop, which was finished this spring, he began the project to renovate one of two barns on the course (one owned by the Blairs and another by a private owner) starting in April of 2020. It was completed (along with a matching red paint job) this June.
“I said to myself, ‘Now I know where the (third) barn quilt will go,” said Blair. That quilt was hung in July with again, help from family and a member of the Keene Swamp Bats the Blairs were hosting.
“This was a fun family project,” said Blair. “I think people have been very appreciative of how nice it looks.”