The Quilt Trails of the Tar River

Traditional quilt block art marks significant places of the region
By Donna Campbell Smith
The Quilt Trails of the Tar River

Tony Kearney, senior serviceman with Wake Electric, helped mount the block at the Old Bank in Franklinton. (photo by Barry J. Barker)

Now you can travel around the upper Tar River area of Franklin County and surrounding countryside and see art that marks the region's history, agriculture and scenic byways. The Quilt Trails of the Tar River, a project of the Franklin County Arts Council, displays quilt blocks on historic buildings and structures.

The trail is the only official quilt trail in eastern North Carolina.

Wake Electric, the Touchstone Energy cooperatives that serves the area, assisted the arts council in mounting some of the quilt blocks — those at a height that requires a bucket truck to reach. The first quilt block needing Wake Electric's assistance was for the Franklinton quilt block, "Wheel of Fortune," installed on the historic Old Bank Building downtown at Main and Mason streets.

Margaret Hilpert, FCAC board chairwoman, said, "Our quilt trail team cheered when we learned that Wake Electric had agreed to help us with the installation of our quilt blocks. From the start they demonstrated the cooperative community spirit that the Quilt Trail of the Tar River was created to encourage."

Award-winning artist Kim Young has volunteered much of the work painting the quilt patterns onto the wooden blocks. She is not a quilter herself, but says she has a great appreciation for the art and those who do it. "Being a part of this venture from the beginning and to see it finally become a reality is very exciting," she said.

Team leader and board member Charles Edward Powell explained what the arts council hopes the quilt trail will accomplish: "The quilt trail is patterned after the highly successful Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina. Quilt trails in other parts of the country always provide a tremendous tourist business to the host county and surrounding counties. Our quilt trail has a priority to bring tourists to the area to explore our rural heritage. Each block has a different story to tell about the owners and their location."

The blocks are square, wooden blocks sold in 2-by-2, 4-by-4 or 8-by-8-foot sizes and are painted with a single quilt block pattern. For an extra fee the quilt pattern can be painted directly onto a building.

Each block is featured in a map brochure and a booklet with the story behind the chosen blocks. "The Quilt Trails of the Tar River" guide marks the locations of authentic quilt blocks on the trail, and offers a history of the family or the building and the significance of the block pattern. The arts council's website also has a page devoted to the trail and a link to an application for those wishing to buy a quilt block and be added to the trail.

About the Author

Donna Campbell Smith, a writer in Franklin County, is active with the Franklin County Arts Council.

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