Hit the Quilt Trail in Ponchatoula: Unique outdoor art is part of a national craze

PONCHATOULA, La. - Strawberry aficionados  in the south known that Ponchatoula is Louisiana's official strawberry capital, but did you know that this cheerful town also doubles as an art gallery?

The Louisiana branch of a colorful craze that's now in every state in the continental U.S., and in Canada was launched in Ponchatoula in 2011, and now there are 50 bright "quilt blocks" that hang on homes, businesses and prominent town buildings such as the fire station and the junior high school.

Ann Boudreaux, who was born and raised in Ponchatoula, came up with the idea of creating a Quilt Trail in Louisiana. She discovered one while vacationing in North Carolina and immediately thought the concept would take off in her hometown. She was right!

Quilts have been a part of American folklore for centuries and this is a new twist on quilting: an art form that brings the intimacy of a bedroom quilt out into the open air.

There are quilt blocks in five parishes, featuring everything from pelicans to trees, hearts, flowers, fleur-de-lis symbols and even alligators!

"It's the fastest growing grassroots art movement in American history," says Kim Zabbia, the first lady of Ponchatoula. She's the chairperson for this artistic mission, and has painted more than 60 of the blocks herself, including the very first one, "Classic Clay," which hangs on The Clay Station on West Oak Street.

It's no surprise that several blocks in and around Ponchatoula feature strawberries, but these blocks are not just decorations; they each tell a story.  Pick up a map at one of the visitors centers so that you can read the full story on each of these works of art. Many of them represent family histories or have strong themes that are not obvious at first glance.

Warning: once you hit the trail, you might get addicted to seeking out these treasures. There are more than a hundred in the state, and Ponchatoula is where you'll find the highest concentration of them.

One rule artists must follow: no logos or words can appear on the blocks.

Anyone can apply to have block made for their home or business; there's a $50 application fee, and the organizers of the Louisiana Quilt Trail will work with the Tangipahoa Parish Tourist Commission to connect all interested parties in order to keep the trail growing.