LEWISTOWN - The heritage and history of rural Pennsylvania are coming together to showcase the beauty of the Keystone State through a grassroots endeavor that started in Mifflin County.
The project, PA Quilt (and Rug) Trails, lets donors replicate a traditional quilt or rug square on an 8 foot by 8 foot piece of wood that is then hung on a building in central Pennsylvania.
According to its website, "PA Quilt (and Rug) Trails is a community-centric project that promotes agri-tourism, strengthens small towns, and promotes sustainability while educating the public about the importance of Pennsylvania's rural communities." Twenty-seven other states have similar trails.
PA Quilt (and Rug) Trails was started by Sharon Lee, who began the project during an internship with Community Partnerships RC&D in Lewistown last year.
"I wanted to bring awareness to central Pennsylvania, and what Pennsylvania has - woods, towns, countryside, a little bit of everything, farmers markets, family restaurants," she said.
The idea is for tourists to follow the trail to see the quilt squares, which often have historical or personal importance, and then visit the town that hosts each square.
"I think of it as kind of a scavenger hunt, and at the same time you get to explore the state," Lee said.
So far, there are five spots on the trail; three have been completed and two are in the planning phases. Each square is sponsored by a business or donor, and Lee said how the square is completed depends on the participants.
In Snyder County, the square is located at the Sewing Shanty in Selinsgrove and was created by Debra Andretta and Mark Paul Brong. They selected a design called a "sawtooth square" to honor Andretta's father, who had owned a sawmill and wood shop.
Another is located at Hunter's Valley Winery in Liverpool.
Lee said originally the project was contained to the five counties that RC&D serves, but now that the organization is not limited by government funding restrictions, she is hoping it can grow.
"We would like to expand to the whole state. There's no reason not to," Lee said.
The most recent square hanging was held on July 8 in Tuscarora State Forest in Perry County.
The square hung was sponsored by Rug Hooking Magazine to honor Magdalena Briner Eby, a hooked rug designer who was born in 1832 and lived on the land that is now the Tuscarora State Forest. Today Eby's hooked rugs are treasured and highly sought after by avid collectors of American folk art and antiques.
Although the original idea for the trail centered on quilts, domestic rug designs are another important part of Pennsylvania's heritage, and Lee decided to extend the project to include a square that featured one of Eby's rugs.
"It's a beautiful pattern. I like the story that the woman lived in the forest," Lee said. "That's how this has evolved. Each one has this really appropriate story, and I think if I forced it, it wouldn't be that way."
To further the trail's ability to educate and showcase central Pennsylvania, Lee has encouraged the community to become involved in sponsoring and designing the trails.
The Tuscarora square was painted by members of Locust Grove Retirement and Rehabilitation Center. Overseen by Manager of Resident Activity Freda Durio and volunteer Janice Hipple, residents of Locust Grove met twice a week for almost two months to paint the square.
The residents said one of the most difficult aspects of the process was preparing the wood for painting.
"We had to work pretty hard to get it useable," said Locust Grove resident Alfred "Jimmy" James, noting that the wood needed a lot of sanding.
After that, the residents followed the color code provided by Durio to complete the square. Durio said a small group of residents worked together to paint the square, but that the group "spent a lot of time together explaining to the observers what it was."
The group, which travelled to Tuscarora State Forest for the hanging, included James, Martha Price, Shirley Guiser, Dale Gray, Jim Nale and Grace Donahey. Donahey passed away after finishing the square, but before it was hung.
"This was sort of her last project," Lee said.
Durio said this was the first time the painters had completed a painting together, but she said now others have asked the group to do more paintings.
"We've had a lot of fun doing this," Durio said. "These guys really stepped up to the plate. They did an excellent, amazing job."
Squares for Mifflin and Juniata counties, sponsored by the Mifflin-Juniata Quilters Guild, are in the planning stages.
"There's a lot of rich history in central Pennsylvania," Laura Cunningham, president of the guild, said as to why the group decided to participate in the project. "The quilting and the needle arts is alive and well."
So far, the square in Juniata County has a place to be hung, but the guild is still looking for a business interested in featuring a square in Mifflin County.
In Juniata, the square will be hung at Heirloom Cabinetry and is being painted by Skills of Central Pennsylvania. It features the Carpenter's Wheel pattern.
Cunningham said the guild tries to select a building that is visible to viewers from the road, and then based on business, it tries to select a square and color scheme that would be fitting to the business.
"The Wagners (who own Heirloom Cabinetry) were more than willing, and we thought with their business, the Carpenter's Wheel would go hand-in-hand. It's a very traditional block," Cunningham said.
The pattern also could have additional ties to Pennsylvania as it is often included in the lore that connects quilt squares to the Underground Railroad.
For the Mifflin County square, Cunningham said the guild plans to paint the design themselves after it finds a business that would like to feature the piece.
"We have a hands on drive to actually construct and paint one," she said.
Once the Juniata square has been completed, a ceremony will be held to present the square. The date for the unveiling will be posted on the project's website, www.paquilttrails.org.
For more information about about the trail or to participate in a square, visit PA Quilt (and Rug) Trails' website or call Sharon Lee at 248-4901, ext. 326.
"Its a community thing, so I sense that as they start going up, more people will ask for them," Lee said.
Cunningham added, "If people start participating, they'll map it and they'll be connected."