Thank you, Donna Sue Groves

Donna Sue Groves (right) and her mother. Photo: Pieced Together.

The legacy of Calvert County’s barn quilt trail

By William Sells

It was a simple thing, really. A portrait of a geometrically square quilt design painted on wood and hung on a barn. It was bright, beautiful, and a stunning contrast to the plain old planky barn, and gave passersby something to appreciate as they headed down endless roads.

         What caused this phenomenon to grow from one barn quilt square in 2001 to 90,000 squares throughout North America by 2021? The answer: People. People like Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio. Without Donna Sue Groves, these “quilts” might never have gotten off the bed.

         Groves died November 13, 2021, after a long illness at the age of 73. But when she was 53, she promised she’d turn her mother’s quilt design into a piece of art the whole world (or at least the country) could admire and appreciate. It took a while, but she eventually fulfilled her promise and got that painted quilt square of wood up on the barn. Her mom loved it, but what transpired over the next few years was more than simple admiration and appreciation by those who saw it.

         Someone once said when a visitor eats and is thankful they help clear the table, but when they’re grateful they scrub the pots and pans. Well, it wasn’t long before Donna Sue realized folks were grateful and might like to see more barn quilt squares across Adams County and BAM—the quilt barn fever spread to more counties and then BAM! BAM! —more states got involved and then BAM! BAM! BAM!—Canada joined in as nails and screws were fastening works of art everywhere in North America. And it wasn’t just barns any more, but any place that wanted attention.

         What began as a way to show off a design became a way for a locale to show itself off to visitors. Barn quilt trails became a celebration not only of visitors who share a common love of the concept, but of those who host the squares. In Calvert County, many of the hosts greet visitors with stories of the past and how they came to be on the trail. It’s a celebration of people, of art and of community.

         Calvert County is the youngest of the barn quilt trails in Maryland. Garrett (, Harford (, and Carroll ( counties have established trails.

         Calvert Barn Quilt Trail Committee Chair, Sue Mills, says she got involved after a friend took the Garrett County tour in 2014, and asked if there was one in Calvert. Mills quickly learned there wasn’t one and upon retirement began researching Donna Sue Groves and the impact the trails have had on their communities.

         Twenty-two squares now comprise the Calvert trail with more to come. Mills says it has been a labor of love brought about by a community of artists and supporters working together.

         “Every quilt pattern tells a story,” says Mills, 67. “And every host has a story about why it was chosen for placement, whether a farmer or museum curator, each story is important… And maybe in Donna Sue’s memory we can take an extra moment to appreciate the beauty in each design, each color, each careful consideration of the message conveyed. Or maybe just for the love of art and for the gifts she gave us.”

         The connections between quilters and barn quilt trail folks are easy to find, says Mills. “Everyone is willing to share the trials and errors they’ve encountered along the way. It’s these ‘people connections’ through art and community that inspires me to be involved and for that I thank Donna Sue Groves. She made the first connections.”

A memorial fund has been established in Grove’s name. Contributions can be made to the Donna Sue Groves Arts & Culture Fund for Appalachian Ohio to continue her legacy of supporting the community she loved. The fund is hosted by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, with every dollar contributed matched as long as funds are available:

To learn more about Donna Sue Grove and the barn quilt trails, watch the documentary film Pieced Together, which also aired on Maryland Public Television: