Dan Scholten is a living example of the old saying “you can take the boy off the farm but not the farm out of the boy.” Though he’s lived and worked almost his entire life in the Northwoods, his farming heritage runs deep, and now people can see that for themselves when they drive by his place on Spider Lake Road in McNaughton.
Tacked on his barn is a red, white and blue “barn quilt” Dan recently made. “I’m putting it out there that this is the first barn quilt in Oneida County,” he said with a laugh. “I’d be really happy if someone challenged me on it.”
Barn quilts have an interesting history. When immigrants first came to this country and started farming, money was tight, and paint was expensive, so out buildings remained unpainted. But around the mid-1800s paint became affordable, and barn decorating caught on. Immigrants of every nationality would display their art work on their barns in the form of large wooden plaques replicating quilt squares. Decorating barns peaked at the beginning of the 20th century, and then slowly that gave way to advertising. Many highways were built through farms, and barns were big and visible. This was not lost on savvy advertisers. Even some out buildings today have “Mail Pouch Tobacco” or “Ceresota Flour” and “Redman Tobacco” advertising slowly fading into the years.
Barn quilting was rejuvenated about 10 years ago in Pennsylvania. It has a sketchy beginning, but its popularity has caught on fast. States like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa and Michigan all have barn quilt tours where people drive a route observing these unique pieces of art. Some say it’s the fastest growing grassroots public arts movement in America today. In fact, it is becoming so popular in these states that people are also displaying them on garages and even on posts. It is estimated that there are over 3,000 barn quilts included on tours throughout the Midwest and New England.
For Dan, the idea of creating a barn quilt was one he couldn’t get out of his mind. This industrious and fun loving retiree grew up on a dairy farm in Sheboygan County. After college he became a county 4-H agent. In 1985 he took a job as the Executive Director of Headwaters Christian Youth, and then served as the program director at Fort Wilderness for 10 years. Dan is a self taught woodworker, enjoys playing the tuba in several bands and is a professed “house husband” who keeps the home fires burning while his wife, Sara, works as a physician’s assistant in Minocqua.
The couple live on a 25-acre farmette and sitting in chairs Dan made with his own hands, overlooking the long driveway and spacious fields that make up his front yard, it isn’t hard to imagine that this could be a working farm with cows lowing in the fields and a rooster crowing in the distance. “Farming is really in my blood,” he said. “But I love it here, too, so this is the best of both worlds.”
Dan decided to create his barn quilt after reading a story about one in an agricultural publication he subscribes to. “I thought it was really a neat idea,” he said. “I wanted to bring that to Oneida County.”
So he gathered the materials and set out to determine a design. “I’m really patriotic, and wanted to make it red, white and blue,” he said. “There’s three stars because Sara and I have three kids, and there’s seven stripes because that’s God’s number of completion.”
This craftsman used treated plywood as the base for the barn quilt, and then painted it three times as well as several layers of clear coating for preservation. He really strived to have it finished by the Fourth of July. “I really wanted to share it with others,” he said.
Dan hopes people that do drive by his place enjoy his barn quilt. And not only that, he hopes it inspires others to display their creative talents.
“They’re really catching the fancy of a lot of people,” he said. “And I hope they do catch on here and someday we can have a tour of barn quilts in Oneida County. It’s a perfect combination, a destination drive and beautiful countryside. What could be more fun?”