GHA residents stand next to the barn quilts they created for the Stonebrook patio

Live Vibrantly - July 28, 2021

Brightening the Stonebrook Patio with Barn Quilts

Goodwin House Alexandria Residents Create Art Installation for Memory Support

By Amanda Ranowsky

The first time Barbara Bolin saw the Stonebrook Patio, she noted its potential. The wonderful outdoor space had plants, though a few artistic touches might bring the space to even more life.

Barbara is a social worker at Goodwin House Alexandria (GHA). She works primarily with residents in Assisted Living and Memory Support.

At GHA, we call our Memory Support household “Stonebrook” and it is home to up to 10 residents who require specialized care as they live with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. One feature of Stonebrook is a dedicated outdoor patio that is enclosed to provide residents both safety and privacy while they enjoy the outdoors.

The wooden fence that creates this enclosure blends nicely with the nature surrounding it, though it is otherwise rather plain. One might say it is a perfect canvas. That canvas gave Barbara an idea.

The “Art” of Aging

At Goodwin House, we find there is art in aging. We also find there are major benefits to engaging in art as we age. A 2006 study by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and The George Washington University showed that older adults who regularly participated in art programs had better physical and mental health and were generally more involved in activities than those who did not participate in art programs. Doing art kept them healthier and more engaged, findings that were backed up by a 2014 study for the NEA.

Practicing any type of visual creative expression engages your creative mind, and a multitude of studies have shown that these activities can lower stress, increase focus and help you process your emotions. And, for older adults specifically, practicing art can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment. This is one of the many reasons why we dedicate a lot of activity to creative arts at Goodwin House.

Barbara was inspired by one specific form of artistic expression—barn quilts!

What Are Barn Quilts?

Barn quilts aren’t the patchwork fabric blankets that might immediately spring to mind when you think of the word “quilt”. Instead, they are large, square panels of wood painted with the design of a single quilt block and hung to decorate the side of a barn. In recent years, they’ve become a popular tourist attraction for rural areas, with barn quilt trails springing up all over the United States. Virginia hosts several barn quilt trails – closest to Goodwin House is the Loudoun County Barn Quilt Trail.

Barbara had seen barn quilts in her travels throughout Virginia and donated one to the stable where she keeps her horse. As soon as she saw the Stonebrook patio when it first opened in 2017, she immediately imagined how barn quilts could be used to decorate the space.

“At first, I thought that we could paint the barn quilt patterns as murals directly on the fence,” said Barbara, “but then I realized that would not be as easy to maintain.”

Collaborating to Create the Barn Quilts

Magic and art can happen when the right people meet at the right place at the right time. When Lindsay Mueller joined GHA in 2019, the magic starting happening to make Barbara’s idea come together.

As the art center coordinator for the Life Enrichment team, Lindsay organizes and offers art classes and projects for GHA residents. She heard about Barbara’s idea and looked into it. “Once I started researching the idea of barn quilts and seeing how do-able it was to create them, it seemed like a really good idea to pursue,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay organized a small group of residents in Independent Living to create the barn quilts. She also made sure to include some residents from Stonebrook in the project.

“This has been collaborative project between residents in Stonebrook and residents in Independent Living,” she said. “We brought patterns and ideas to show the Stonebrook residents and see what they would be interested in working on. Then a few of the Independent Living residents and I drew their chosen patterns on boards in the Art Room. I would bring the boards back to Stonebrook, where residents could paint and fill in the areas we’d traced.”

Creativity Leads to Camaraderie

For many of the residents participating in this project, creating this type of art was a new venture. “Before I came to Goodwin House, I never did any art,” said John Kress, “so this was a new project for me. I painted my house, but I never painted anything else.”

“I’ve done some graphic art before – photos and Photoshop, that sort of thing – but never anything like this,” said Julie Lineberry. “My mother was a quilter and tried to get me interested in quilting, but I was a phenomenal failure. I never finished my first squares!”

Creating the barn quilts was a months-long activity. Participants had to trace and tape out the patterns before painting so that the edges would be crisp, sometimes repeating the process several times to get the precision for each color in the image. Just preparing the boards for the colored paint alone was a three-week procedure that took several rounds of sanding and priming in the basement workshop and the parking garage. “That was what really bonded us,” said Ruth Corlett. “But it was fun and a worthwhile project in many ways.”

“We called ourselves the Barn Owls,” said John, as a grin lit up his face.

The Barn Owls involved in this project spent many, many hours to create 16 barn quilt squares that will be installed on the Stonebrook patio fence in August. They took time to speak with me and show me their work and their process. In speaking with them, I realized the work and passion they put into making this art.

As the saying goes, “seeing is believing”. We invite you to step into their story through this video to learn more about the Barn Owls and their wonderful project.


As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin House Incorporated to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining GHI, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.


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