Oklahoma Stories

Barn Quilter Express Inspires Rural Art

By Gail Banzet-Ellis March 2022

One-day painting class brings vintage rural charm to any space.

The workshop equips participants with the supplies and instruction to complete a barn quilt square in one day. | Courtesy photo

Barn quilt paintings have adorned America’s landscape for decades. Wagoner, Oklahoma, artist Deborah May is sharing her passion with a creative nod to rural nostalgia.

The Lake Region Electric Cooperative member is the founder of Barn Quilter Express, a one-day painting class. As of 2022, heightened interest in her course has allowed May to quit her day job and focus solely on hosting barn quilt painting sessions. In the past three years, she has taught more than 700 people how to make a barn quilt while reminding them to slow down and enjoy the experience.

“Once I tell everybody to ‘take a deep breath, it’s only paint,’ the barriers of being afraid or intimidated break down,” May says. “Everything is fixable on a barn quilt, just like everything is fixable in life. My students learn how to navigate life through barn quilts.”

From professors and engineers to nurses, teachers and retirees, May’s class is open to people of all ages and walks of life. Each class is five to seven hours long. For a registration fee of $85, she hosts small groups in her Wagoner County home. Classes that require her to travel start at $120, and all art supplies are provided.

“I love how barn quilting brings people together,” May says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, working or staying at home. All people enjoy creating.”

Ann Meigs, also a member of LREC, is a teacher in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, who has taken five of May’s classes. The daughter of an art gallery owner, she grew up spending her summer weekends traveling to art fairs and now says she’s addicted to barn quilting.

“Deborah makes sure everyone has a good time and has a piece of artwork they’re proud of that will last a very long time,” Meigs says.

With paint brush in hand, the students sit and talk, learning about each other as May instructs the session. She encourages everyone to put away their phones and listen to their classmates.

“We’re here to help each other. We can have a good time, get through a rough time and learn from each other’s experiences,” she says.

Barn Quilter Express participants can choose from many patterns or replicate a quilt that is special to them. By the end of each class, each student takes home a complete 24-inch standard-sized square.

“Everybody has a different pattern but the same result,” May says. “The paint is dry, the lines are crisp and they can look back and remember how much fun they had creating their quilt.”

Originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, May said she’s always been a country girl at heart. Once she became old enough to live on her own, she left the city and pursued jobs that aligned with her love of horses.

“I’ve always identified with people in the country where the barns are,” she says. “The beauty of a barn is just as beautiful as an old church steeple that you drive by. I’ll drive by a building in the city and think, ‘oh, that factory needs a barn quilt on it.’”

The pops of color and heirloom design of a barn quilt square bring out the vintage charm in any barn, but the paintings also can be placed on a fence, mailbox, the side of a house or incorporated into interior spaces. Now that May is operating Barn Quilter Express full time, information about her classes continues to spread to quilting guilds, church groups and other community organizations.

“I think the trend is still growing in Oklahoma,” she says. “We all have room for a barn quilt in our communities.”

Category: Oklahoma Stories

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