DAKOTA CITY | With a big celebration underway for Nebraska's 150th anniversary of statehood, Shirley Knight decided to go big with her painting hobby, too.
She's spent years painting feathers, saw blades, wine bottles, jar lids and other small objects.
After going to Ponca, Nebraska, with a friend to view a barn quilt display in that community, Knight began thinking bigger.
"That just really got me because every one of them was different," Knight said of the barn quilts she observed in Ponca.
Knight and her friend decided each one would paint a barn quilt of their own. Her friend chose a more traditional geometric pattern like those commonly seen on farmsteads and houses in communities across Siouxland. Knight wasn't sure which direction she wanted to go.
"I just kept doodling in my mind," she said.
While looking through a book on Lewis and Clark, Knight began to find some inspiration. When her daughter began talking about the historic files she had been looking through for Nebraska's 150th anniversary celebration, the idea for a sesquicentennial-themed barn quilt was born.
It made sense, she said, to include a picture of a family in a covered wagon in front of Chimney Rock, a natural landmark that served as a guidepost for westbound settlers passing through Nebraska. From her book, Knight was attracted to a picture of the buffalo that once roamed the Nebraska plains. She chose to include a Native American on a horse overlooking them. And finally she added pictures of Lewis and Clark and their Native American guide, Sacajawea. In the center, she painted two feathers, a symbol that has become a signature on her art.
It was a challenging idea to paint onto a 4-foot-by-4-foot sheet of plywood. She couldn't just lay down a pattern and trace it. All the work was done freehand, leading to some trial-and-error and repainting over a few mistakes along the way.
"I haven't had art lessons in my life, maybe that would have helped," Knight said with a shrug and a laugh.
She didn't count the hours the project consumed, but she often made three daily trips to her garage to paint, stopping each painting session when her lower back began to ache from bending over the plywood. Despite the aches and mistakes, she found the project inspiring.
"I enjoyed it. When I go out there and paint the Indian on the horse looking over the buffalo, it just kind of came alive to me," she said.
After a month, Knight was finished and had the quilt hung on the fence near the gravel road that passes by her house on Crystal Lake. For the past month, passersby have pulled into her driveway for a closer look at the unique barn quilt. Some have even made offers to buy it.
"I'm going to hang on to it for a while, simply because I've got love in that picture," Knight said. "I go out there and admire it when I go out to the mailbox and when I take the trash out to the road.
"It's unique. They'd probably even say I was a little looney to tackle something like that."
It's was Knight's first barn quilt, and most likely her last.
"It was a big task," she said.
A state's sesquicentennial is a once-in-a-lifetime event. It seems fitting that Knight's undertaking was also one of a kind.