Shei Smith’s quilts don’t drape a bed or rocking chair. Her giant quilt squares brighten up the countryside, hanging along the side of barns in Pierce County.
Shei Smith has recently started quilting, but her creations are not quite right for wrapping up in or spreading across the bed. No, her quilts are used at the barn.
Smith has taken up the hobby of making “barn quilts.”
Instead of using fabric to create the works of art, she uses paintbrushes, plywood and barn walls.
Several of the works of art are displayed near her home on Alabaha Woods Drive.
“I took up the hobby for pleasure as a way to relax,” Smith says. “After a long day at work, I can get out here and paint and create and unwind and have fun.”
Smith works by day as a nurse with Unison Behavioral Health System.
In addition to her work responsibilities, she is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Added to that, she and her husband, Bobby, a machinist at CSX, have a busy life and have five children, Libby, 21, Blue, 20, Shane, 20, Abby, 17 and Zoe, 16.
“This is our thing to do together. We are busy, but we try to do this in our spare time,” says Smith. “Bobby helps me get the plywood set for painting and he hangs them for me. I do the creating and painting.”
Mrs. Smith takes out her brushes, cranks the radio up and gets to work painting and creating the barn quilt designs.”
She generally has an audience.
“Bobby is generally working on other projects in the garage when I’m doing the barn quilts, so it provides us time to be together.”
The couple is also joined in their work by their pets, including their cat, “Miss Kitty” and their dogs, “Lucy” and “Zeus.”
“We all just hang out together,” she says.
The creations generally take about two days to finish and then Smith treats them with a polyurethane finish to provide them with weather protection as they are displayed. Mr. Smith then mounts them on the barn wall.
Smith began doing the barn quilts just a few months ago right after the new year began.
“I read about the barn quilts somewhere and just decided I wanted to try one,” Smith relates.
She said the colorful creations reminded her of the traditional fabric quilts made by her grandmother, Molly Sue Herrin.
“I remember grandmother working on her quilts when I was growing up and it is a sweet memory,” she said. “I think of her when I am doing my barn quilts.”
While Smith has done some colorful geometric patterns, her focus has been on nature scenes including sunflowers, patriotic themes featuring the American flag and even a Florida State Seminoles design.
Just as fabric quilts have their own unique history, so do barn quilts. While barns were not painted back in the day, they were decorated with different types of folk art. One of the most memorable were the “See Rock City” creations that once dotted the highways.
Eventually, the art included quilt blocks once paint was readily available and affordable.
In the early 2000s, barn quilts started showing up again, and the first barn quilt trail began, originating in Ohio. The trails allow motorists to easily find and see the creations.
Smith is not on an established trail — yet — but she says she receives lots of compliments on her work.
“I received a handwritten note from a neighbor telling me how much they enjoy seeing the barn quilts as they drive by our house,” she said.
Being near the schools, the Smiths say they have lots of traffic and lots of motorists get to view the art each week.
“I am thankful and blessed to be able to share the barn quilts with everyone,” she said. “It’s something I enjoy doing and can get wrapped up in.”
Just like a quilt.