Sampson squared

By Lauren Williams Staff Writer

February 9, 2014

The fabric of life in Sampson County has always been rich, colorful, and diverse. Historically, the county’s patchwork has been stitched together with two common threads — agriculture and art. It’s a stitch that remains to this day, as strong and treasured as ever, so much so that four local entities have come together to create a public art project — “Barn Quilts of Sampson County” — in order “to celebrate and promote the culture, heritage, and progressive nature of Sampson County” and highlight what binds all the swatches of Sampson County life together.

Drawing inspiration from the barn quilts seen along the barn quilt trails in the state’s mountain region, locals with the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Sampson Arts Council, the Sampson County History Museum, and the Sampson County Cooperative Extension have been hard at work creating a similar project for Sampson County.

“Once I had a couple of people mention the barn quilt idea to me, I thought it was time to see about it,” said Vickie Crane, director of the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), noting that the idea quickly took hold. “We’re such an agricultural community and it fits so well with our county.”

“Perhaps what is most appealing about the barn quilts is how the project uniquely blends the rural agricultural landscape and art form of quilting with a universal medium – paint,” shared Crane, explaining that a barn quilt is an exterior wooden panel that is hung on a barn or building and features one quilt block or square. “There are all different patterns and usually they’re brightly colored.”

To launch the project in Sampson, the CVB has sponsored the construction and painting of seven barn quilts. Many on the project’s committee, as well as a number of volunteers, have been diligently working over the past couple of weeks to complete them, transforming a space out at Jordan Shopping Center into their workshop.

“Kay Raynor, who is on the board for the History Museum and is a quilter herself, has been very helpful,” said Crane, noting that Raynor, who is now also a member of the barn quilt project committee, was instrumental in deciding which quilt patterns should be used to kick off the project. “There’s 28 patterns to choose from, but if someone wants one and wants another pattern or something specific to them, that’s fine. We just tried to choose ones that are geometric in shape.”

And individuals can build their own barn quilts too, she said, acknowledging that Sampson is home to many creative people, but “we would like them to be a part of the (future) trail.”

With the first barn quilts nearly complete, the committee is looking forward to hanging them in the near future. “Two will be hung at the Cooperative Extension/Livestock Arena, one at the History Museum, one at the Expo Center, one at the arts council, and one at the Joseph Royal Farm,” noted Crane, mentioning that the location of the last one was still to be decided.

While beautiful, the barn quilts will serve a wide variety of other purposes, Crane shared.

“The barn quilt project has economic, social and cultural value for Sampson County,” she stressed. “Barns quilts attract visitors from across the state and nation, bringing tourists and tourists’ dollars to our county. Our ultimate goal is to have these unique, colorful pieces on buildings visible from the highway throughout Sampson County and create our own barn quilt trail, complete with a map providing the locations so people can tour around the county to see the different colors and patterns. It’s a project that will generate tourism activity for our local communities and I could not be a happier about the marketing possibilities.”

Ray Jordan, executive director of the Sampson County Exposition Center and chairman of the CVB board, agreed, adding that “my whole take on it, from the standpoint of the CVB, is that our whole goal is to develop opportunities, events, sights, and projects that people want to come and see. This is really one of the first projects where we are working to create a destination so to speak, something that folks will want to travel to see, and then while they’re here, visit other things like the history museum, shops, restaurants.”

In addition to bolstering Sampson’s agri-tourism, the barn quilt project will also help promote local artists, the visual arts, and the traditional art forms practiced in the county, an objective Kara Donatelli, executive director of the Sampson Arts Council, is excited about.

“It pr0motes the arts, especially this type of public art as well as quilting too,” she said, looking over the list of the project’s objectives and pointing to the one about cultural identity — “Because Sampson has a quilting tradition, we want to promote quilting as a form of art. By placing quilt blocks on buildings we hope to showcase the symbolism and heritage of the patterns that provided warmth and comfort for generations as wel as a social outlet for Southern women.”

And, of course, the barn quilts will also be representative of how vital agriculture is to Sampson life.

For Cooperative Extension director Eileen Coite, the project “will draw attention to the magnitude and significance of agriculture in Sampson County. Our hopes are that it will highlight the agricultural impact and importance through the beauty of the barns and the farming landscape that surround them across this great county.”

“This could create an appreciation for the diversity of commodities grown throughout the county,” she continued, noting that “one of our main objectives in Cooperative Extension is to enhance and promote profitability and sustainability of agriculture. The barn quilt project is a nice opportunity to support agricultural heritage and appreciation. We’re glad to be a part of that.”

Such enthusiasm from everyone involved is greatly appreciated, acknowledged Crane.

“The partnerships make it exciting. It seems so fitting to have all these people involved,” she said. “The beauty of the project is that it has allowed me as director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau to cultivate and strengthen networks and partnerships…to develop a project to promote Sampson County in a way that touches each of us through history, art, tourism and agriculture.”

It’s the collaboration between the project’s partners that Jordan has found especially enjoyable as well.

“What I do here at the Expo Center and all, what I enjoy most about it, is getting to work with all these different groups and collaborating,” he said. “I like that it’s bringing folks together for the common good; that makes me feel good about what we’re doing.”

And all involved believe that sense of community and investment in Sampson County will translate to others. In fact, they’ve already begun to see strong community interest and support just from news of the project traveling around the county via word of mouth.

“There’s great interest in it so far. It’s received a good reaction already,” remarked Jordan. “I think it will become something that people really want to participate in and be proud of.”

“I think there will be a lot of quilters and artistic people who will take an interest,” Crane added.

As the project and interest in it continues to grow, ” we hope to eventually have multiple trails along the highways and byways of the county,” Jordan explained. “We will create a tour guide or a brochure and start marketing it to people outside of the county to bring them in.”

“As people are traveling through the county they’ll get to see the barn quilts and it will encourage people to get off the main roads and see the county from a different perspective, one that they might not have had an opportunity or reason to see it from before,” said Crane. “It gives people a reason to linger longer.”

For a glimpse of the barn quilts and to learn more about the project, the public is invited to attend the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours event this week on Thursday, Feb. 13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Prestage Hall at the Exposition Center.

During the event, the project’s signature barn quilt pattern, designed by local Ann Holland, will be unveiled. Two barn quilts featuring the signature design, in which barns and a millstone are incorporated, will be dedicated to George Upton for his contributions to the county through the Cooperative Extension, the history museum, and the CVB, to name a few. The two signature barn quilts will hang at the Cooperative Extension; another specially-made barn quilt featuring the “Corn and Beans” pattern will also be revealed and presented to Upton for his own farm.

For more information about the barn quilt project, please contact Vickie Crane at 910-592-2557 or via email at

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at