Barn quilts

This is a "LeMoyne Star" quilt pattern is painted on a barn on Garrett Highway in Accident. It's one of the stops along the Barn Quilt Tour, where tourists can view (from their cars) quilt patterns painted on local barns by the Barn Quilt Association of Garrett County. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / October 11, 2011)

On a brisk autumn morning perfect for a leisurely drive, I set out from Baltimore en route to Maryland's westernmost county.

With its rolling hills dotted with farms, mountain vistas and cornfields, plus dense forests gleaming with brilliant fall hues, rural Garrett County makes a stunning canvas for Mother Nature's handiwork.

As the miles rolled by, making the city a distant memory, the ever-changing landscape unfolded like a good book.

Each stretch was a revelation filled with quaint finds and charming discoveries: tiny towns with names like Accident; an Amish farmer driving a horse and buggy; herds of sheep and cows grazing in open fields; roadside produce stands with pumpkins for sale.

It all proved the perfect backdrop for exploring the Garrett County Barn Quilt Tour. This self-guided driving trail features 14 rustic barns countywide, each adorned with likenesses of old-fashioned patchwork quilt blocks.

The colorful blocks, painted on glossy sign materials and typically 8-by-8-feet in size, boast patterns with catchy or traditional titles like "Delectable Mountains," "Turkey Tracks" and "Summer Star Flower."

The barn quilts lend an artistic touch to these pastoral environs, while also fostering a broader mission.

"We're trying to preserve the history, culture and Appalachian heritage of this area," says Karen Reckner, executive director of the Garrett County Arts Council and a key organizer of the barn quilt trail. "We also want to promote quilting and other folklife traditions."

Donna Sue Groves, an Appalachian native, is credited with the original barn quilt concept in Ohio. After buying a farm with an old tobacco barn, Groves reportedly had a quilt block painted on the structure to honor her mother, an avid quilter.

The Quilt Trail movement has since taken off in dozens of states, including Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Iowa, North Carolina — and Maryland.

Reckner, who's been quilting for a decade, first read about barn quilts in a magazine and was intrigued. "I said to myself, 'I'd like to see that,'" she recalls. "I thought it would be a fabulous idea to bring here."

In 2007, she joined forces with three other local women to spearhead the project. By early 2008, they'd formed the Barn Quilt Association of Garrett County Inc., enlisting community support from volunteers, local organizations and area officials.

The county's first barn quilt, "LeMoyne Star," made its debut that year. With its red, black, yellow and white palette, the same colors as the state flag, the block breathes fresh life into a barn that was built circa 1898.

I glimpsed an array of styles and designs while meandering along the trail, which offers a cellphone narration or a map with GPS coordinates.

There's the patriotic red, white and blue block off Garrett Highway called the "Ohio Star."

And just a stone's throw from Interstate 68, "The Garrett County Circle of Life" by artist Ginni Neff depicts the county's four seasons. The 12-foot-square block is set against a whitewashed barn.

It's eye-catching, but I didn't linger for very long. Because the barns are spaced at varying intervals, locating each one can take a little time.

But getting there is half the fun. In fact, the experience was a little like a scavenger hunt. Each time I spied a new barn around the bend or down some twisting back road, I felt like gleefully yelling, "Eureka!"

Such positive response to the trail is common, say organizers. And more farms want to participate.