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‘Alley Art’, privy a painter’s palette

By Staff | Aug 22, 2012

(Photo by Ruth Fry) The outdoor quilt block trail rage sweeping the country has arrived on Hickory Alley, Hughesville. Dubbed 'Alley Art' by owner, quilter and painter, Carol Shetler, these "Flying Geese" blocks were painted directly on the door of the restored privy.

HUGHESVILLE – A privy, aka out-house, is Carol Shetler’s first outdoor ‘object de art’ since her move to Hickory Alley in Hughesville last September. Trading rural life for a place in town and using her artistic talent, she’s found small lawns a manageable perk.

This is the third lawn she’s landscaped, however, the first to contain outdoor quilt art often referred to as ‘barn quilt blocks.’

Quilting with fabrics since 1994, over the past few years Shetler had seen several magazine articles on barn blocks. Those articles credit the beginnings of painted wooden blocks to Ohio where a daughter had one placed for the enjoyment of her mother, a shut-in.

Kentucky is another state known for the fad, and nearer to home Wyalusing, Pennsylvania holds an annual June festival using the quilt block trail to promote tourism.

Recently it was learned the Pennsylvania State Grange Association joined the cause and locally blocks were placed on buildings at the Lycoming County Fair, Hughesville and Montour-DeLong Fair at Washingtonville.

Quilt blocks are usually squares, but this tribute to newspapers represents the applique method preferred by quilter Carol Shetler. The semi-border is a variation of the "Log Cabin" block. It will be hung for viewing along Hickory Alley in the near future.

Before painting the privy on Hickory Alley, much work was required. “My daughter Penelope replaced the rotted roof and some rafters. It was then the door was removed and the ‘flying geese’ pattern painted directly to the door. With six onlookers, it was rehung on June 15.

“We used purple as the dominant color and refer to it as the Purple Privy, or the PP house. The three “P’s” (one on the miniature privy) were initials recycled from three individualized storm doors on the main house. “I recently learned lavender was the former owner’s favorite color, thus belonging to the late Martha Dolly Poust. This tidbit of information about the Poust home came from her neighbors and caretakers, Alice and Don Andrews.

Geese decoys were sought to further accentuate the pattern. Finding none locally, an online source was located in Paducah, Kentucky. The location of the supplier seems a coincidence as in April, Shetler and cousin Ann Burke attended one of the country’s largest quilt shows in Paducah.

The picket fence was also recycled, previously located across the street where about a decade ago Katha Elser replaced it with one of metal. Sections were placed along the sidewalk for sale and Shetler stopped and made the purchase. Word has it the old fence was constructed by Elser’s father, Myron Fiester.

Within two weeks of hanging the privy door, three additional blocks were attached to the shanty. Those three-foot squares are also patterns denoting outdoor themes including ‘bear paw,’ ‘fish’ and ‘stars and stripes.’

Pieced patterns of geometrical shapes are the choice for barn blocks, however Shetler prefers appliqu so as to accomplish curves and flourishes. For this, the painter drafts patterns on graph paper with her most recent attempt, a tribute to newspapers.

A writer with The Luminary since 1999, her late elder sister was employed at The Grit in its subscription department. “So, we have a tiny bit of history with the press,” she said.

Other papers noted are The Sullivan Review, the former Hughesville Mail and Montgomery Mirror, which had been combined with The Luminary, formerly the Muncy Luminary. She hopes to include the long gone “Millville Tablet” before preserving her work with a polyurethane coating.

To Shetler’s knowledge, the nearest example of quilt blocks attached to a barn is at the Wayne Appleman farm on Paradise Street outside Turbotville.

Shetler confesses she’s on a binge and for the future has an eight-foot square design ready to put to plywood.

“I’m fortunate to have several buildings. My daughter’s say I’m failing at my attempt to keep a low profile. My response is that outdoor art is not about the painter, but for the enjoyment of others. If I become known as the nut on Hickory Alley, so be it. A trend toward preserving those few remaining privy’s as a palette for painters might be a way to incorporate urban buildings into the rural rage.”

Shetler’s landscaping can be seen on the corner of South Main Street and Hickory Alley in the borough of Hughesville.