Barn Quilts for Books: Local artist creating literary legacy in honor of late mother

·7 min read

Jun. 20—PLESSIS — To create a lasting legacy for her late mother, artist Kimberly A. Kernehan is merging art and literacy to honor the woman she remembers as always having a book in her hand.

A labor of love, Ms. Kernehan has spent hours producing four hand-painted barn quilts to raffle for the purchase of children's books for those who attend story hours at the Macsherry Library, 112 Walton St. in Alexandria Bay.

Her effort has been named "Barn Quilts for Books" in the hopes of establishing a legacy of reading in memory of her mother Caroline V. Kernehan, who died in March last year at the age of 88.

"My mom was born in 1932 during the Depression era and they didn't have much, so her love of reading was really kind of born out of that," Ms. Kernehan said. "She would talk to me about how with reading, her imagination took her any place she wanted to go. She was a voracious reader all through her life and she inspired me to have that same love of books."

Ms. Kernehan, a former art therapist with the River Community Wellness Program, is a credentialed alcohol substance abuse counselor and does prevention education as well as working as a student-assist counselor through Pivot at the Lyme Central School District.

For the next month, when she isn't working, she will be selling raffle tickets in various locations, including the lobby of the Alexandria Bay Big M supermarket on select Saturdays, and the Sunday flea markets at Coyote Moon Winery in Clayton, weather permitting. The raffle will end July 17.

Once the proceeds have been gathered, Ms. Kernehan will choose social-emotional learning books designed to teach kids empathy and compassion, and she'll participate in two story times this year as a guest reader.

She will read the children the book she has chosen and money raised through the raffle will go toward the purchase of copies for each of the children to take home.

"As I was going through my mourning process and my grieving, I kind of turned to my art because that's a default mechanism for me," Ms. Kernehan said. "I began doing these barn quilts and as I was painting these, I got thinking about how I wanted her legacy to live on. I was like, I wonder if I could do something with my art to help with literacy, leave my mom a legacy of reading. I was sitting there with some friends one evening, and I was telling them how I wanted to maybe paint some barn quilts and raffle them off, and I was kind of throwing out some different titles and catchy phrases, and one looked at me and she says, 'Kim, why don't you combine those two and say Barn Quilts for Books?' It just kind of like hit me like a ton of bricks at that time."

She went home and started listing the ideas that had sprung to her mind, and the "Barn Quilts for Books" project was born.

The next day, she said she got up and contacted the Macsherry Library and talked to the head librarian about the idea. She told her that she understood she'd probably have to submit a formal letter of intent to the library board and get this all approved, but the librarian told her that it was such an awesome idea she was approving it on the spot.

Ms. Kernehan decided to paint four barn quilts, including a large 4-by-4-foot piece of a mariner's compass, and three 2-by-2-foot barn quilts in a variety of designs: a playful golden retriever puppy, a double kayak design and a more traditional bear claw pattern.

Raffle tickets cost $5 each for the larger piece, or five for $20. For the smaller pieces, tickets are $3 each or five for $12. Those wishing to donate or buy tickets can contact Ms. Kernehan at 315-484-3062.

"This is my first time doing this and not knowing what kind of interest it's going to generate and how much it's going to bring in, I just said I'll start out with two story hours," Ms. Kernehan said. "I've been in discussion with the two ladies that run the story hour, and they kind of gave me basic numbers of the amount of children that come in and their age ranges. And then what I will do is order the books and bring a stack of them with me when I go in to actually do the reading. I'm hoping to put a little bookplate in each book saying 'Barn Quilts for Books: A Legacy of Reading in Memory of Caroline Kernehan,' and the year."

Ms. Kernehan said she hopes this project will generate enough interest so it may continue and reach as many children as possible.

While she originally wanted to have the raffle end on July 1, what would have been her mother's 90th birthday, the process of painting the four pieces took more time.

From cutting the pieces and sanding them down, to applying three coats of exterior primer and letting them dry between each coat before even starting to lay out a design and get to painting, many hours of work went into each piece.

Ms. Kernehan said she doesn't use patterns, so she figures out the designs in her head and then puts them on the board.

Always an artist, Ms. Kernehan said she never carried around baby dolls or anything like that when she was a child, instead favoring small sketch pads and colored pencils.

She earned her bachelor's degree in art education and studio art at SUNY Potsdam. She eventually happened upon art therapy and earned her master's degree at Nazareth College in Rochester, graduating in 2010.

She had been doing art therapy since that time, officially until about the end of 2016, when she got more into the substance abuse field, utilizing creative modalities with that client population.

"She always told me there's not anything that you can't do if you put your mind to it," Ms. Kernehan said of her mother. "She was very supportive, loving, nurturing, always stood behind me. She was there to pick me up when I made mistakes, but it was all a growing and learning experience because I knew I kind of had a safety net."

She noted that her mother, who was born in Watertown and raised in Alexandria Bay, absolutely loved Harlequin romances because a lot of them were written about places in Europe, and she'd say she learned so much about a place because the authors had researched them.

So while she might never get there physically, mentally she could picture what it was like to be there.

Ms. Kernehan said her mother developed macular degeneration in the last couple years of her life, which took away the central part of her vision, leaving the peripheral. Nevertheless, her mother's love of books continued right up until the end, she said. Her mother would sit and have her head turned with a book off to the side so she could read it using her peripheral vision.

She was also utilizing magnifying glasses and large print books, but the deterioration of her eyesight was progressing rapidly. It became too strenuous, and she gave up reading for herself. Now, with a legacy in the making in honor of her mother, Ms. Kernehan hopes to inspire a lifelong love of reading in others, allowing them to experience the joys of literature like her mother often did.

"I would talk with her and she would start telling me about books that she read in the past few years, even from her childhood and teenage years going up through and how she still remembered where they took place and the characters," Ms. Kernehan said. "It really transported my mom and even though she couldn't physically read them anymore, she still had all that memory and those lessons and things that nobody can take away from you."