In the shadows of historical Mt. Konocti, near the spring-fed waters of California’s largest body of water, Clear Lake, sits Kelseyville–a tight-knit farming community with an old-fashioned main-street that’s home to the county’s annual Pear Festival as well as several local wineries.
But it wasn’t the wineries that caught my attention on a recent weekend vacation to this region–it was an unexpected display of large painted quilt squares that have popped up on old barns and local businesses around the county. In fact, it became a kind of “I-spy” car game to discover another quilt block adorning the visage of a passing barn as we drove around the countryside.
My family has owned vacation property in Kelseyville for over a decade, purchased as a quick weekend getaway from the Bay Area. When most of our friends head west to Tahoe, fighting freeway choked throngs of other weekenders heading to the high country, we escape north-east away from the traffic and crowds to this remote rural county.
As a tourist destination Lake County remains largely undiscovered. Off the beaten path, it’s main claim to fame is agriculture, a few scattered Indian Casinos, and the now defunct Konocti Harbor Resort–a once bustling venue with a 5,000 seat outdoor concert amphitheater that attracted some big name performers over the years.
The county is long known for its pear and walnut orchards, which earned Kelseyville the title of “Pear Capital of the World”. The town also hosts the county’s signature Pear Festival, celebrated annually on the last Saturday in September. In recent years, many of these established orchards have slowly been replaced by large-scale vineyards. It seems Lake County possesses the same volcanic, mineral-rich soil and Mediterranean micro-climate that has put nearby Napa county on the map, attracting both boutique and big-name vineyard growers to the area.
In an effort to boost tourism and celebrate local agricultural roots, the Lake County Quilt Trail was born. The project was founded in 2009 by Marilyn Holdenried, who with her husband Myron, a 5th generation pear farmer in the county, own local Wildhurst Vineyards.
Holdenried discovered the concept while attending the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee where she first learned of the idea originally started by Donna Sue Groves of Ohio. Groves painted and hung the first quilt square on her barn in Adams County Ohio in 2001 as a tribute to her mother, an accomplished quilter, and in celebration of their shared agricultural heritage. Donna Sue’s vision of creating a tapestry of interconnecting barns decorated with quilt squares across Ohio was the impetus that inspired Holdenried to recreate the idea in Lake County.
Holdenried returned home and set to work. As founder and chairman of the Kelseyville Pear Festival she presented the idea to the festival committee which voted to provide initial funding to launch the county-wide project. Dedicated volunteers composed of quilters, graphic artists, painters, writers, and carpenters, assembled to conceptualize and paint each one-of-a-kind wooden quilt block. The finished squares were then prominently displayed on the outside of local barns and businesses.
Each square’s pattern is “selected to connect with the history of the building, honor farming or celebrate the family, as well as pay tribute to the generational history of beautiful quilts.”
The project launched a grassroots movement to place painted quilt squares on highly visible barns and buildings throughout Lake County. The resulting “quilt” is a symbolic gesture that weaves agriculture and local business together promoting and celebrating community pride. This innovative project is the first of its kind in California.
Today, Lake County’s Quilt Trail Project joins a rapidly expanding National Quilt Trail that has spread to twenty-four states and counting. Clearly it’s an idea that’s taken hold, linking local agribusiness, American history, and art to a larger network of over 2,000 barn quilts nationwide.
Those wishing to participate in the Lake County Quilt Project may purchase a quilt square for their barn or business for a fee of $225.00. All fees are used to sustain the project moving forward.
Driving around the beautiful farm country in Lake County, one cannot help but take note of these unique works of art, weaving a quilt that blankets each community and our country with a reminder of our proud agricultural heritage past and present.
For more information on the the Lake County Quilt Project, visit http://www.lakecountyquilttrail.com/