DEBORA VAN BRENK’s article in the London Free Press
Folk art to tell of town founder
By DEBORA VAN BRENK, THE LONDON FREE PRESS
WARDSVILLE – A big old-fashioned quilting bee – only with paintbrushes instead of needle-and-thread – is one of this community’s 200th birthday gifts to itself.
As Wardsville celebrates its centennial next month, it is also telling the story of its founder, George Ward, in 30 large murals that will be affixed to buildings in and around town.
They’re called “barn quilts” because the squares look like traditional quilting blocks.
And this may be the first such collection in Ontario.
“This is really rural, country folk art,” said organizer Denise Corneil.
The displays are intended to be a tourist draw, community-builder and historical record.
Painting, taping, and sealing the 8 x 8-foot blocks has taken place for months in the basement of Beattie Haven retirement residence.
When finished, the blocks will go up outside select barns, sheds, stores in a 60-kilometre radius, with a map that will direct drivers to the various sites and explain their meanings.
Each geometric symbol tells part of the tale of inkeeper Ward and the growth of a community that is a microcosm of small-town Ontario: crops, church, wagon tracks, Union Jack, grist mill, river travel, the War of 1812.
The first block, “farmer’s wife,” is already hanging outside the credit union.
Volunteers have also stitched a fabric quilt that includes the same blocks.
The barn quilts will be unveiled officially during larger bicentennial celebrations on June 18-20, Corneil said.
“It’s a big deal,” said volunteer Bob Davis, who noted many families in the community of 500 are also planning family reunions there during that weekend.
They include about 60 former students and residents at Twin Valleys Community and School, a 1970s-era community that was a cross between a commune and gentle reform school. Led by George and Pat Bullied, the farm – including an orange-yellow “foam dome” building that still stands – was met with some local skepticism at the time but many alumni say the experience changed their lives.
Corneil said this has been a tremendous community-building exercise.
“The main thing is to encourage people to start looking at heir history again,” Corneil said. “For a little community, Wardsville has really pulled together to get things done.”
She said the the barn-quilt idea came from Donna Sue Groves of Ohio, who first painted a one to honour her mother. Some other communities in the United States also have barn-quilt trails. This, though, is the first series that will tell a story, Corneil said.
“They’re turning all of Wardsville into a destination point,” said muralist and eco-artist Rick Sommers.
After moving here from Toronto, Sommers helped barn-quilt organizers learn the proper materials and painting technique that would help their creations withstand the outdoor elements.
“I’m finding a sense of community here that’s lacking Toronto,” he said.
The bicentennial event is partly funded by a $33,000 grant from Heritage Canada.
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When: June 18-20 What: Celebration of 200 years
Events: Include starlight dance, open house at museum, pioneer encampment, tent revival with potluck supper, storytelling, unveiling of barn quilts. (Most events are free.)
founded Wardsville in 1810 as government asked him to build a stopping place on what is now Highway 2 (Longwoods Rd.) for travellers between Chatham and London.
when war of 1812 began, his tavern and homestead became a gathering spot for British forces, to rest up their horse, be fed and gather other provisions. He played important role in Battle of Longwoods in 1814.
Was accused of treason but case never went to court. Died in 1837 He and his wife and children endured many hardships. He apparently went to his grave trying to clear his name of the accusation bdied 1837