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10/31/2023 12:08 PM

Hailey Wiley: Reviving a Tradition

The area’s long agricultural history includes a number of centuries-old traditions and unique cultural touchstones, from round barns to keep witches from hiding in the corners to honor system farm stands. One of those quirky items of heritage is “barn quilts,” pieces of painted folk art that adorn the main entry for barns and storage structures as talismans against evil, advertising for products, directional markers, or just for aesthetic purposes, and one local high school junior is helping keep that tradition alive.

Hailey Willey of Killingworth, a junior at the Hopkins school, helped her neighbors at the Down the Lane Farm revive the barn quilt tradition when they asked her to make one for their business on Reservoir Road in Killingworth.

According to Hailey, barn quilts are not fabric, as the name implies. They are ordinarily 4 x 4-foot wood pieces that have a more than 300-year history in America and are believed to have arrived with Dutch and German émigrés and, as such, were heavily centered in the Pennsylvania area.

Farm owners Maureen and Greg Alfiero thought Hailey would make the perfect artist to capture the essence of their farm, which specializes in beekeeping and honey production.

“I went to the shop with my mom one day to buy a couple of things, and me and Maureen got talking about how I’m an artist and started talking about art and then mentioned she wanted some art for the outside of the barn. So I brought back some sketches a couple of days later, and it worked out,” says Hailey.

According to Hailey, she was unaware of the barn quilt tradition but jumped right in because the format was so intriguing to her. With such a large surface to create upon, Hailey says she became excited with the possibilities it afforded.

“I didn’t know anything about it before I started. It was initially going to be painted directly on the barn, but after a couple of weeks into planning, it became hard to coordinate a couple of things, including me being up on a ladder,” says Hailey. “So, we decided a board would be easier, and I ended up just painting it right in my room.”

Hailey explains that a barn quit is a misnomer. The art she created, she says, is “actually a giant piece of plywood.”

“I was working with about a dozen little Tupperware cups filled with paint. I had my primary colors, and I had white, and I had one brush that I used, a size 9 round brush, which is pretty tiny for use on a 4 x 4 piece, and I just went for it,” Hailey says. “This was definitely the biggest piece I have ever done. Nothing I had done before could even compare with this.”

According to Hailey, she dove right into the project because it was such an interesting concept and presented unique challenges for her. Hailey’s final piece is a beautiful image of a honeybee that captures the essence of the farm, which specializes in honey and bee products.

“I was looking for work because I was really wanting to do something. So, when Maureen offered this, I was like, ‘Why not?’ This is my chance; why wouldn’t I take it?” says Hailey. “I was so excited to do it. I came up with the idea myself, and I was so happy to do it. Maureen said she wanted to have a bee, some flowers, and a honeycomb, and I came back with three or four sketches, and one of those became the final choice,” says Maureen.

All didn’t go exactly to plan, says Hailey. Nearing the end of the process, an accidental spillage of paint threatened to stall the project.

“I think it probably would’ve taken me about three weeks to finish, but there was a little bit of a disaster about halfway through,” Hailey recalls. “I was working out of these tiny cups of paint on my floor, and one of these slipped out of my hand, and it was open. It had just enough propulsion to shoot almost everywhere, even up to my ceiling, and ended up all over about half of the painting. I was such a mess…so I had to go back and color-match everything. I think I did a pretty good job; you can’t see it. It was terrifying, but it definitely taught me I can save things if I try really hard.”

Hailey uses everyday paint and backing for the project, noting that she used a simple latex housepaint for the design.

“I think all paint is pretty much the same at a certain point; you just have to learn how to handle it. Usually, when I paint, I use watercolor, so switching from that to a thicker, more opaque paint was new but a little easier because if you make a mistake, you can paint right over it and fix it. It is actually easier. It was my first time using housepaint in that way, but it was fun to use.”

Hailey says she loves art and is currently formulating plans that encompass a career in art.

“I am pretty much in love with art. I wouldn’t do anything else. I am hoping one day to make it my career, but I’ll be damned if I get tied down doing one particular kind of art,” laughs Hailey. “I’m not really beholden to any style or medium just yet. I try and pick up new things all the time. I don’t think I’m interested in going to art school because I feel like it could get too focused on the art and less on being able to feed myself one day. The starving artists aren’t a cute idea to me. I plan on going to college, but probably a liberal arts school where I can focus on my art. I plan on majoring in studio art or something along those lines, but also with an emphasis on business or economics, just so I can sustain myself. I love art, but I want to eat too!”

Hailey adds, “Art is for everyone. Don’t be scared to try new things; be excited to try new things because it can be very rewarding. My favorite part of the process is seeing how happy people are when they see the final project. It was so exciting to see how happy Maureen was about it. For my first real commission, Maureen was a great patron to have. I was very, very lucky to be part of this.”

Down the Lane Farm is located at 19 Reservoir Road in Killingworth and has seasonal hours for shoppers. For more information call 203-619-3976 or visit

Hailey Willey of Killingworth helped keep a local agrarian tradition alive with her barn quilt project for the Down the Lane Farm. Photo courtesy of Hailey Willey