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Barn quilt girls fuse tradition with modern art

Syndi Brooks, left, and Renee Brooks, right, lay out the design for the latest barn
quilt they are preparing to paint for a customer.

Originally published: Mar. 21, 2013
Last modified: Mar. 21, 2013

Jesse Campbell

Syndi and Renee Brooks, of Jefferson, are quilters — but not in the traditional sense. 

Such as a quilter or seamstress, they take ordinary geometric shapes and a palette of awe-inspiring colors and combine them into visual masterpieces that express the uniqueness of the individual it represents. 

While their process and end result bucks against the traditional definition of what a quilter does, these Jefferson ladies are playing their part in transforming traditional rustic settings across the county.

They make barn quilts.

When you think of barn quilts, Syndi and Renee admit that the image that comes to mind for most people are not entirely accurate. These are not fabricated cloth quilts that you can hang from a barn, they both said. 

A barn quilt, which varies in definition by the artists that assigns it, is a medium-size painted square that contains an array of geometric shapes and designs. 

Essentially, a barn quilt does resemble its namesake — at least visually. 

Instead of sewing the pieces together, Syndi and Reene design and paint them from the basement of their Jefferson home. 

If a customer wants to incorporate a personalized message or symbol in the barn quilt, they can do that, too. 

“You can take a classic pattern and make it unique to the individual,” said Syndi as Renee posed with a barn quilt that incorporated a symbol of a popular motorcycle company. “We also had one lady whose brother passed away and she wanted a way to celebrate him. She said he like border collies, so we painted a border collie in the picture.”

“We get a lot of unique requests,” said Renee. “But it’s a lot of fun,” added Syndi. 

They then coat the barn quilts in polyurethane as a protective measure. 

“If you are going to pay $80 for one of these, you want them to last,” said Syndi. 

Operating under the name of “Quilt Square Girls,” this artistic duo is trying to make a name for themselves in the local art community that they say has been “very supportive.”

Their road to becoming established artists has as many turns and angles as the patterns on their canvases indicate. 

Syndi was born and raised in Ashe County. She graduated from Northwest Ashe High School. When she reached age 30 and realized the scarcity of jobs locally, she and Renee looked to Winston-Salem for employment. 

“We both had good jobs in Winston, but then my grandma, who lives across the street from our house now, got sick,” said Syndi. “When your family needs you, well, you drop everything your doing and you come home.”

After finding themselves back in Ashe County, they were able to get on at Tigra, but that, too, wouldn’t last. 

Unemployed by the factory’s closing, Syndi and Renee took advantage of the Trade Act and went back to school at Wilkes Community College. 

They also found part-time jobs at the Wilkesboro campus, but the wear and tear of travel up and down the mountain forced them again to re-evaluate their source of income. 

All the while, Syndi and Renee, both of who share a deep interest in the arts, fell in love with the barn quilts that began to appear on the sides of agriculture buildings and homes throughout the community. 

They began experimenting with making the quilts and in 2011 decided to make a full time commitment of making the works of art themselves from the comfort of their Jefferson studio. 

Two years later, the duo have made and shipped more than 600 original pieces from their home to customers across not only Ashe County, but also the United States. 

And no, these works of arts are not tailored made for just the ladies. Men love them too, Syndi said. 

“It has become unique to us that men are just as passionate about the quilts as women are because this is public art and public art has become known as what is called safe art,” said Syndi. 

She then pointed to a picture of man holding a barn quilt with a Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet in the center.

“The customers love to have their pictures taken with their barn quilts,” said Renee. “They are very personal to them.”

“Some of our customers will actually come in personally, sit down, and go over with us what they want their quilt to look with,” said Syndi. 

The barn quilts also harking back to a simpler time while changing the focus of the art and where it is going, said Syndi. 

“Quilt patterns are Civil War age,” said Syndi. “Most are classic patterns. Quilts have always celebrated the work of women, but this is a display of public art that celebrates our history.” 

Working as a small, independent business has also allowed them the opportunity to become closely connected with its clientele. 

“These people who started out as our customers have become our friends,” said Syndi. “It’s wonderful in that regard.”

As for their future plans, Cyndi and Renee say they are humble, yet realistic in what they envision. 

“We want to operate small and be fiscally responsible,” said Syndi. “Our goal, one day, is to have a retail spot and have someone to work with us, but we have to be smart.”

Aside from the Ashe County Arts Council, the ladies said they have received a great deal of support from the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce and its small business consulting services. 

“Everyone has been just a great help to us,” said Syndi. “We’ve been incredibly blessed. Ashe County is a great community as far as the arts.”

For more information on the Quilt Square Girls, search for their name on Facebook or click to http://www.ilovebarnquilts.com. 

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.