Just 25 miles north of Truckee sits Sierra Valley. It’s a place of cattle ranches and sleepy towns that make you feel as if you are going back to a much simpler time. Thus, it is one of my favorite escapes from the bustle of life in Tahoe City. For me, the best way to enjoy the quiet of the valley is on a bike.
The slow pace allows you to truly experience the hawks, sandhill cranes and endless vistas of farmland and ancient barns. Recently, I noticed while riding through the valley several barn quilts. These are wood versions of the cloth quilts made by countless rural folks for generations that now adorn the sides of many of the old barns. They provide a lovely touch of bright color among the muted greens and browns of the valley.
The barn quilts honor the dairy and ranching history of this valley, which goes back more than 100 years.
The barn quilts are a recent and pleasant addition to the Sierra Valley landscape. They honor the dairy and ranching history of this valley, which goes back more than 100 years. For the people of the small Sierra Valley communities, making the quilts has also been an opportunity to gather together with a common purpose.
However, the Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail event on Sept. 30 was designed so that you can take them all in with special day events along the way and end the day at a tri-tip dinner.
The Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail will give participants a rare glimpse inside the ancient barns that dot the valley floor. This valley once supplied dairy products to the Comstock Lode miners in Virginia City, Nev. Many of the barns built during that era were constructed with hand-hewn timbers and wooden pegs and many are still in use today. The Art and Ag Trail is a community-wide event with local artists showing and selling wares, children’s activities and artists’ demonstrations along the route.
Sierra Art and Ag Trail
Sept. 30 | 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Dinner | 4-6 p.m. | Sierra Valley Grange Hall
Much of the funding for the creation of the barn quilts came from the California Arts Council and the Sierra County Arts Council. Those who built and painted many the smaller 2-foot-by-2-foot quilts were volunteers. These smaller quilts quickly became popular and were sold to finance the building of larger versions that now adorn many barns.
“We were surprised how quickly they sold,” said BJ Jordan, whose family has lived in Sierra Valley for generations. “It is very meticulous work. You have to get everything exactly right. Every color you paint three times. And each color can only be painted one at a time. It takes a lot of thought.”
Once you take a look at the handiwork, you will appreciate all the effort that was put into creating the quilts. The Goodwin Ranch in Beckwourth, just off State Route 70, is one of the recipients of a barn quilt.
“I think it was really kind of those people. It would have cost us thousands of dollars to produce the quilt,” said Anna Goodwin.
She says that the quilts were the work of a dedicated group of retired people who love the valley and its history. The Goodwin Ranch and barn were built around 1864. Goodwin says that criteria for receiving one of the quilts is the barn must be at least 100 years old and that the barn is visible from the road. Like most of the original families that settled in Sierra Valley, Goodwin’s family has Swiss/Italian heritage, so she worked with the quilt designers to incorporate a Swiss flag into the design.
Rich Moore from The Sierra Valley Grange is looking forward to folks touring Grange Hall in Vinton during the Art + Ag Tour. The barn quilt on the Grange building incorporates a wheat symbol, the perfect advertisement for the Grange, which is a fraternal organization supporting agriculture. Moore applauds the barn quilt program: “It is part of an effort to bring the valley together. It’s cattlemen and cattlewomen trying to incorporate events that help everyone,” said Moore. “It has been instrumental in getting people to work together in the valley.”
For more information, visit sierravalleybarnquilts.org.