Monday, December 22, 2014

Quilt block tour draws author

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/2/2014

Suzi Parron didn’t expect to become an author. Nor did she expect to be touring the country almost year-round to visit barns.

“Barn quilts have been my life now for six years,” Parron said. “I did not expect it at all. I thought, ‘I’ll just write the book and I’ll just keep teaching and life will go on.’

“Now, I plan on being on the road for the next four years, full-time.”

Parron, author of “Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement,” is set to speak 6:30 p.m. today at Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa. She now is working on a second volume of her book that will highlight the Franklin County Quilt Block Tour, which features 34 barn quilt blocks throughout the county, as well as other barn quilt block tours throughout rural America.

While she was waiting to publish her first book, which explains the history of barn quilt blocks, quilt tours across the country began popping up, she said. The new tours allowed her to write a second full book, she said. Parron has traveled to farms all across the United States and has even ventured into Canada. There are 7,000 documented barn quilts in 47 states, and 130 trails in 43 states, she said.

Chris Campbell, owner of Chris’ Corner Quilt Shop, 3593 N. Old U.S. 59, Ottawa, said the Franklin County Quilt Block Tour was in development at the tail end of Parron’s research for her first book, and made it into the book with one brief mention.

When the tour was in development in 2010, Campbell said, she was just hoping to get about 12 quilt blocks on barns for a tour. Today the tour features 34 quilt blocks throughout the county.

Franklin County residents may apply through the Franklin County Visitor Information Center to join the tour. People associated with the tour help make and install quilt blocks on the barns, she said. Those applying need to remember tourists visit the farms to view the quilt blocks, she said.

“We tell everyone, people will be driving around and taking pictures,” Campbell said. “It’s amazing how many landowners say, ‘I don’t care. I want people to come by and see what we do.’”

Parron, who previously worked as an English teacher in Stone Mountain, Ga., said the quilt blocks are large art pieces that resemble a single square found in a quilt. Such pieces are hung on a barn and allow for farm owners to add a little flair to their land and join a tour so people can visit and learn about their operations.

Parron travels to farms with quilt blocks and interviews the farm owners. She toured several farms on the Franklin County Quilt Block Tour Wednesday. When she interviews the farmers, who will then be featured in her book, she said, she sometimes writes about the family or the farm operation instead of the actual quilt block.

“People really are better at telling their own stories when they’re on their own property,” Parron said.

She never would have thought she would make a career out of touring, Parron said, but she was able to quit her day job as a teacher once organizations across the country began asking her to speak.

“I actually quit teaching last year,” Parron said. “I can’t keep working full-time and doing 60 appearances in one year.”

Although she and her husband have a home, they live almost full-time in a converted Greyhound bus they use to tour the country. Parron said barn quilt blocks are a compelling topic for her because they allow her to travel, learn about farming techniques and hear stories from rural America.

Campbell had the same experience when she visited Oregon and Florida, she said. Because of the tours, Campbell visited a carrot farm in Oregon, a crop that she previously had never seen, she said. In Oregon and Florida, farmers were surprised to hear that she owned 80 acres of land, she said, which would typically be a small amount of land in Kansas, but seemed to be massive to the farmers on the coasts.

“[The tours] get people off the four-lane roads and out into the countryside to see what a farmer really does,” Campbell said. “I was amazed at the difference in [an Oregon farmer’s] farming methods than we have here.”

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