Elsie Bennett knew the animal food industry was not going to sustain her 100-plus-year-old general store.
Looking for a way to rejuvenate the Bear Poplar store, Elsie Bennett found an answer in art.
When Bennett’s “mentor”, Adele Goodman, mentioned his desire to bring barn quilts to Rowan County, Bennett saw an opportunity.
“After much prayer, thought, reflection and meeting with Adele, I said, ‘Why don’t we start giving a barn quilting class? “, Bennett said. “We taught a class and the community loved it.
Quilt designs were probably painted on barns in America dating back to colonial times, but the modern barn quilt movement began with Donna Sue Groves in 2001. Groves painted a quilt block on the tobacco barn of family’s Ohio to honor his mother. The idea caught fire and started a nationwide trend that continues to grow today.
Bennett and Goodman taught their first barn quilt class in 2017 at West Rowan Home and Garden.
“From there it just continued,” Bennett said.
Bennett helped make Rowan County a barn quilt destination by adding colorful designs to buildings in the rural countryside.
Her first large barn quilt was a colorful 12-by-12-foot pattern at Patterson Farm. Others soon followed and in 2019 West Rowan Home and Garden set the record for the largest barn quilt mural in the country with a 504 square foot design on its exterior wall.
Rowan County temporarily lost the record for oversized barn quilt murals elsewhere, but regained the honor when Bennett and the City of Cleveland unveiled a 1,000-square-foot mural made up of 160 service-side pieces Cleveland Fire in October.
“He’s retained the title here in Rowan County for now,” Bennett said.
While the Cleveland Fire Department has the largest barn quilt mural in the county and nation, Rowan’s largest barn quilt square is on the Carolina Malt House side.
Coinciding with the unveiling of the Cleveland Fire Department mural was the launch of the Cleveland Barn Quilt Trail. The 2.6 mile walking trail features 60 comforters. Barn quilt patterns range from animals to patterns, but almost all of them have a meaning.
“Barn quilts are more than painted wood,” Bennett said. “You can really use art to tell a story, engage people, and start conversations.”
Bennett has no plans to create another record-breaking barn quilt mural anytime soon, but she does want to continue to develop the barn quilt trail. She is currently working with a company to develop a map that will help people navigate the trail.
“I would like to help promote tourism through art in Rowan County,” Bennett said. “It’s a passion of mine because I feel God is using me to make a difference, to light up the world and to tell stories within my community.”
Bennett sells barn quilt calendars and take-out barn quilt kits in her store, in addition to matching inventory.