A Patchwork of Hope: Donna Sue Groves, the woman behind barn quilts, faces the challenge of her life
Losing a job and learning you have cancer would devastate just about anybody – except for Donna Sue Groves. She is a survivor. What helps Donna Sue fight is the love and support of family and friends, and the community she has helped create through a simple idea of painting colorful quilt squares on barns.
When Donna Sue Groves was a young girl she spent hours in the backseat of the family car during vacations. Sometimes they would travel from Crede, West Virginia to visit grandparents in their native Roane County, WV. Other times, they would drive through Pennsylvania, up to New England.
Somewhere along the way, her mother Nina Maxine Groves, created a game for Donna Sue and her brother based on the different types of barns they saw dotting the countryside. Points were awarded per barn and painted advertisement. Donna Sue got really good at spotting barns and grew to love the different shapes and the stories of the people who built and worked in the wooden structures.
Years later, when Donna Sue was divorced and her mother widowed, they purchased a farm in rural Adams County, Ohio. When they toured the property, they came across an old tobacco farm. Donna Sue had never seen one before and thought it was the ugliest thing she ever saw!
Looking at the distressed wood of the giant barn, she joked to her mother, a celebrated quiltmaker, that she would paint a quilt square on it to give it some color. Donna Sue had a great appreciation for the colorful fabrics and patterns pieced together by the skillful hands of her mother, as well as both her grandmothers.
Her promise of painting a square became a joke amongst friends and neighbors, until one day some of those friends encouraged Donna Sue to make good. But she didn’t want to paint just one square. With the help of the community, Donna Sue created a “Clothesline of Quilts” in Adams County. The idea was to create a driving trail of 20 squares so that tourists would come to the area to see the quilt barns and stop at local merchants. It would be a way to bring economic opportunity to the area.
The first square was unveiled in 2001 and Donna Sue immediately started getting calls from neighboring counties. They wanted to know how they could start their own trail; asking everything from where to get the paint to how big to paint the plywood squares. Donna Sue was happy to share what she knew.
Almost ten years later, it’s now the National Quilt Barn Trail, spanning more than 20 states and British Columbia. Donna Sue is even getting calls from overseas; she wants to start calling it the “International” Quilt Barn Trail. There are still moments of amazement that this phenomenon all started in a small Ohio community.
In 2003, the second of the Adams County quilt barn squares was unveiled. It was a “Snail’s Trail” quilt pattern added to the Groves’ old tobacco barn. Donna Sue and Nina Maxine even added a second square on the side of the barn that faces their homes, away from the road. It is just for them. A reminder of a promise kept and a promise to keep fighting, no matter what tomorrow may bring.
Meet Donna Sue as she bravely faces her most challenging project yet…