Are There Regional Niches in Woodworking?

Wood Quilt

Is there a woodworking niche that is specific to the region you live in?  For example, have you ever heard of barn quilts?  I never have.  But apparently they are all the rage way up in Minnesota where today’s story comes from.  There’s a woodworker named Dwight Ohl who was featured in the Kanabec County Times for his barn quilt making.

The aspect of a unique design being passed down through the generations – like a family crest – is interesting.   Even if your future generations didn’t have a barn, it could still be displayed in a yard or even inside hanging on a wall.

Woodworker brings art trend north

by Kirsten Faurie, Editor

A German tradition has become a big art trend in southern Minnesota and Iowa; now a local woodworker is bringing the beauty of barn quilts to Kanabec County.

“[Woodworking] is my passion. I would rather do that than just about anything,” said Dwight Ohl who owns a woodworking shop at his home on the south side of Knife Lake.

A glance inside the office and showroom reveals a tidy space, filled with whimsical wooden creations from fancy pink flamingos to wooden replicas of firearms to canoe shaped book shelves. In the shed the sound of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 9 accompanies the sounds of sanders and table saws.

This is where barn quilts are made.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, a barn quilt is not fabric. A barn quilt is a piece of wood, usually 4 or 8 feet square, painted like a single quilt square. The patterns and colors often carry a meaning to the owner and can be passed on through families, almost like a family crest.

These panels are then hung on the side of a barn, home, shed, along a fence or mounted on a freestanding post.

There is some debate as to the origin of barn quilts. Some say it began with the arrival of immigrants from Germany who decorated their barns with designs that celebrated their heritage. Others say the concept of barn quilts began with Donna Sue Groves who wished to honor her mother by hanging a painted quilt square on her barn in Ohio.

No matter the origin, today they have grown in popularity and visibility.

Like a home or garden tour, areas where barn quilts are popular have organized “quilt trails” where travelers can drive along a route to admire the various designs. Quilt trails have been established in four Minnesota counties including Carver, Olmsted, Houston and Martin counties.

Ohl began making his own signs from what he saw during his time in Spring Grove. He was also attracted by the simple, or intricate patterns the quilts depicted.

As a former math teacher, replicating the patterns was simple for him. “Geometry comes easy,” he said.

Ohl has made many unique quilts that hang on his shed and in his yard with designs ranging from traditional quilt patterns to more modern designs like an abstracted American Flag.

While the barn quilts are his latest creation, he still dabbles in wood burning and other wood crafts including making custom items for customers. Some make it to the shelf but “there are a few that have gone in the fire pit,” Ohl joked.

Ohl’s workshop can be found at 2592 Keystone Street, Mora where he displays and sells his work.

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