Mark Lankford finds solace in barn quilt painting
A former local fire chief is getting a lot of attention these days for something he does to pass the time when his wife is working in the evenings.
Mike Lankford of Vincennes has been engaged in his garage, creating and painting geometric designs and more, creating what is known as a barn quilt — or barn quilt painting — that are simplistic yet strikingly creative works of art.
Now retired from the Vincennes City Fire Department, Lankford owns his own carpentry repair business, Lankford Maintenance, sometimes replacing entire decks and other considerable projects. He picked up the designing and painting of barn quilts around five years ago.
“I saw them around down in the Princeton area, in the country,” Lankford said. “There are a number of them on barns throughout Gibson County.”
In southwest Indiana, Gibson and Pike counties have enough barn quilt paintings to have Barn Quilt Trails, a colorful patchwork of art that adorns barns and outbuildings, a treat for motorists to enjoy while cruising the countryside. There are 225 painted barn quilts in Gibson County alone.
Lankford has gotten a lot of his ideas from seeing these gems on his travels, and after learning more about them he seeks out and tries to look at as many different designs as possible. He has a number of barn quilt designs on his smart phone.
“I see a lot of different designs and either want to do it or sometimes change it a bit,” he said. “I often see various designs in my head and then create them. It’s kind of trial and error.”
He’s the first to say that he’s no artist. He’s never studied art, nor has he ever had an art or painting class. So when he was invited to display his barn quilt paintings at the Old Northwest Territory Art Guild in October, he was surprised.
“I have never considered myself an artist,” he said. “But I can see things, like designs, and then create them. But I never would have thought that I’d be asked to show these in an art gallery.”
Nonetheless, Lankford was on hand to greet guests as they browsed his work and others at the Northwest Territorial Art Guild in Vincennes last month. He had a few selections on display, but most of what he has done has already been sold and delivered. Much of his work is on display in people’s homes, on barns, and there’s even one that greets customers at the Design Nook in Vincennes.
“It’s enjoyable,” he said. “It’s relaxing. But it’s not like I’m sitting the entire time. Actually I’m fairly active, getting up and down all the time, getting new paint, taping and re-taping, and making sure it’s the way I want it.”
Lankford says he does most of the work during the winter months, where he can get into the garage and paint without it getting too hot. It’s a likeable hobby that helps pass the time while his wife, Betty, is working.
“I like to watch TV,” he said. “But not that much.”
He is meticulous in his work. The lines in any geometric design must be straight, the angles must intersect perfectly, and the painting must be precise. He uses Frog brand painter’s tape — the best he says (but expensive) — to ensure his painted lines are just right. He uses a hand-held hair dryer to dry painted areas, allowing him to move a project along.
Lankford applies two to three coats on each of his barn quilts, something not everyone does. But he wants to ensure his paintings will last.
“I criss-cross my brush strokes, going one way, then the other,” he said. “I want that texture. I want it to look good.”
Most of his paintings are 4-foot square, although some are 8-foot square. He uses birch plywood for the barn quilts, a higher quality that is more suitable for painting. He estimates that he’s done upwards of 50 barn quilts.
The painted barn quilts seen today are a relatively new phenomenon, though they have been around since early American colonists, mostly German and Dutch, painted such squares on their barns to celebrate their heritage.
It was an Ohio woman, Donna Sue Groves, who is credited with starting the current barn quilt squares that adorn many barns and other buildings, and specifically the barn quilt trails that continue to pop up in various states. There are more than 7,000 barn quilts and accompanying trails in 48 states, according to barnquilts.com.
“They’re pleasant to look at, I think,” Lankford said. “People seem to like them.”
For more of Lankford’s barn quilt designs, log onto his Facebook page.
By Bernie Schmitt