Born on the side of a barn

By Jason Ferguson

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If you’re in the market for a hammer, a light bulb or a visually stunning display of several works of art in one place, Custer Do It Best is your one-stop shop.

No, Do It Best didn’t suddenly start selling art. Rather, it is home to art—a 32-foot-wide, six-foot-tall display of barn quilts created by Sara Suda and some of her neighbors, all members of the Barn Quilters of the Black Hills.

Barn quilts are similar to traditional quilts in terms of their varied and colorful patterns but are painted on a board instead of sewed and then are hung on the side of a building. Barn quilters have been practicing this folk art for hundreds of years as they decorated exterior buildings with wood squares they believed protected their homesteads and brought good luck.

The first known area barn quilters were JoAnn Hoffman of Hill City and Jan Vandarwarka, Sue Gies and Connie Snyder of Custer. Glenn and Monica Jansen brought the folk art to the Beaver Lake neighborhood where the decorative art is normally displayed.

In April, Suda and Connie Werner  spearheaded the Barn Quilters of the Black Hills folk art. An effort to introduce this art to the community through the development and application of a barn quilters art wall in Custer and the Barn Quilters in the Black Hills Trail began.

On Facebook, the Barn Quilters of the Black Hills group grew steadily in membership and the idea of developing a large barn quilt wall within the state became a challenge.

“We saw it as a way to encourage tourism, cultural interest, quilting, community and hobby development while providing an activity for people to enjoy while visiting the area,” Suda said.

Additionally, members of the group have donated  works for nonprofit groups such as Custer County Search and Rescue, Rotary, Operation Black Hills Cabin and other entities.

Suda said there are several organized barn quilt trails around the county, as the quilts are popular and plentiful in Ohio, Indiana, etc., particularly in Amish communities. Author Suzie Parron set out to document the trails and the book that came out of that documentation helped the phenomenon grow.

“I have always known about barn quilts and always thought I’d like to have one,” Suda said.

The main inspiration for the display at Do It Best is a barn quilt wall in Ashland, Kan. The wall is 16’ x 16’ and is the largest in the state.

“It’s the most beautiful thing,” Suda said. “We saw that on Facebook and said, ‘We could do that in Custer!’”

Do that they have, and the wall on Do It Best is called the unofficial largest barn quilt wall in South Dakota. Suda said the group hopes to expand the wall, as well. Contributing to the wall were designers and painters Suda, Werner, the Jansens, Vandarwarka, Bambi Graham, Marcia Murphey, Phyllis Lyndoe and Carol Roberts. The wall mounting structure was designed and installed by Beaver Lake Road area neighbors Greg Werner, Russ Suda, Gary Roberts, Glenn Jansen, Gerry McManus and some of the Custer Do It Best employees.

Suda said around 20 barn quilts have been identified in the area and will eventually be made part of a trail. Information will be sent to area quilt shops to advertise the group with the hopes of growing and finding more members. The trail will be a self-guided tour with a map of the trail and information about each quilt’s name, address and sponsor of each barn quilt. The trail list should be available by the middle of this month. Anyone who has a barn quilt at their home or business is encouraged to contact Suda at [email protected] or 673-5254 or Connie Werner at [email protected] or 440-7107 to possibly have their quilt included in the trail.

Donations are sought, as well. Interested supporters and barn quilt donors may  contact Suda or Werner. There is hope that phase two of a barn quilt wall will evolve through donations of new works done by those having learned the art and then sharing it with the community.

The group can be found on Facebook under the Barn Quilters of the Black Hills. Available on the site is an explantation of the processes used for these quilts, information on the quilt wall, a trail map, member information and contact information.

“It’s a thing that’s new to Custer,” Suda said. “It’s a cheerful thing and it’s fun.”