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Colorful quilts on display at the National Quilt Museum. Photo courtesy of the National Quilt Museum.

Colorful quilts on display at the National Quilt Museum. Photo courtesy of the National Quilt Museum.

Sometimes travel discoveries come strictly through serendipity.

While attending a recent family reunion in southern Illinois, my new daughter-in-law, Nona Patrick, mentioned that she knew of a quilt museum in Paducah, Kentucky, that she would like to see someday. As it happens, Paducah was just a 45-minute drive from our reunion site and, since we had some extra time before driving back to the St. Louis airport (yes, three states figure into this tale), I suggested we go see it then and there — especially since Nona and our son, Grael, live in Tucson, Arizona — not exactly next door to Kentucky.

Until a few years ago, when I wrote a story on quilting theme cruises for Porthole Cruise Magazine, I would have said I had little interest in quilting and would have opted to go fishing or relaxing on the farm in southern Illinois instead. But during my research for the piece I became intrigued by quilting’s growing popularity — estimates are that there are now more than two million active quilters the U.S. alone, who spend upwards of $2 billion annually on their art — and even more impressed by the beauty and intricacy of the designs.

Corona II: Solar Eclipse, an award-winning quilt. Photo courtesy of National Quilt Museum.

Corona II: Solar Eclipse, an award-winning quilt. Photo courtesy of National Quilt Museum.

Quilting — a source of warm bedding and clothing dating back to colonial times in the U.S. (and centuries more in Europe and Asia) — has been described as something akin to making a “fabric sandwich” out of three layers of material sewn together, either by hand or by machine. It’s also a longtime popular folk art form, producing often colorful, intricate decoration for everything from purses to wall hangings.

At Paducah’s National Quilt Museum, which turned out to be the world’s largest museum devoted to quilt and fiber art, many of the quilts are nothing short of dazzling. Several that we saw had been named among the best 100 quilts of the 20th Century, such as the one pictured here called “Corona II: Solar Eclipse”  by Caryl Bryer Fallert of hometown Paducah.

One section featured miniature quilts — amazing in their detail — while another displayed what I would call whimsical (in some cases) or novelty quilts. My favorite among those was a poignant quilt that depicted a number of condemned prisoners’ last meal requests — which ranged from everything from buckets of fried chicken to a plethora of candy and soft drinks to steak and salad (with ranch dressing) and, most poignantly of all, “no request.” The quilter noted that she took no stand one way or another on capital punishment, but wanted to provide food for thought, as it were — and it definitely does.

The main gallery displays part of the museum's permanent collection. Photo from the National Quilt Museum.

The main gallery displays part of the museum’s permanent collection. Photo from the National Quilt Museum.

In a separate room, there’s even a quilt carved out of wood, made to look like fabric — a perfect illusion.

The quilts on display are rotated frequently so I can’t promise that any given one will be there when you visit. Some are part of their permanent collection and others are traveling exhibits. I can pretty much guarantee that if you’re a fan of fabric art — and it is truly art — you’ll be delighted with what you do see.

A bonus is that the museum is situated on the edges of historic downtown Paducah, which in turn lies along the Ohio River waterfront. It’s a nice area to walk around, with some good restaurants and shops.

Quilters travel from all over the world to come to this museum for educational programs and, of course, to see the quilts themselves. I’m glad we took the time to detour 45 minutes out of our way: serendipity, really.

 

4 Responses to Dazzling Displays at the National Quilt Museum

  • Hello Clark,
    Excellent piece on the National Quilt Museum. Of course, I am biased, as I am the museum’s curator. I thought you might be interested in some updates to information you provided.

    The 2010 Quilting In America survey (http://www.quilts.com/announcements/y2010/QIA2010_OneSheet.pdf) found that there are 21 million quilters in the U.S. And the number continues to grow.

    The quilting industry is a 3.58 billion dollar industry, according to that same survey. This really points out the impact that hobbies have on the American economy.

    Caryl Bryer Fallert Gentry has relocated to Port Townsend, Washington. We here in Paducah were sorry for her to leave but she is beginning a wonderful new phase of her life with her new husband Ron Gentry. Please see her website at http://www.bryerpatch.com/.

    The maker of the quilt about prisoners’ last meal request is Jane Burch Cochran of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. Today’s quiltmakers frequently create quilts that make you think and ponder. This ia one such quilt. It is loaned to the museum for an exhibit that ends September 16.

    I hope you can make it back sometime. As you wrote, there is always something new to see!

    Best regards,
    Judy Schwender
    Curator
    National Quilt Museum

  • Hi, Clark- thanks for posting about the Paducah Quilt Museum, although I do not quilt, I find it fascinating and love the beautiful creations by so many talented people. Also, I wanted to mention that I recently illustrated an online puzzle for Which Way USA for Highlights Magazine featuring Quilting Camp for kids at the Paducah Quilt Museum. I would love to visit the museum one day.

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