Contemporary Art Museum in Historic Paducah, Kentucky
By Hope S. Philbrick
The National Quilt Museum is the world’s largest museum devoted to quilt and fiber art. It’s located in Paducah, Kentucky, near the town’s historic downtown riverfront.
“Quilting is an art form. Anyone who enjoys going to art museums will enjoy coming here,” says Susan K. Edwards, director of marketing. “We honor all forms of quilting, handcrafted or machine, avant-garde, traditional, pictorial….”
“As an art museum we feature and love all forms of quilting,” she says. “A quilt is not limited to bedding. To qualify as a quilt it must have three layers—a top, batting and backing—and something that goes through all three layers; typically it’s thread, but it could be yarn, leather or something. That’s technically what makes a quilt.”
Located in a 27,000 square foot facility, the Museum is comprised of three exhibit galleries; displays change about eight to ten times per year. The main gallery features quilts from the Museum’s collection, which currently includes over 400 quilts. The two side galleries feature traveling exhibits; at the time of my visit, special exhibits included: 11th Quilt Japan (winners of an international competition), Civil War era quilts, and miniature quilts by one artist who challenged herself to make one miniature quilt a week for a year—resulting in a wide range of artistic variety.
It’s easy to explore the Museum on a self-guided tour, as each quilt has its own information plaque with details about the quilt, the quilt maker, and any related anecdotes or stories. For example, one quilt had a mouse appliquéd onto it because the quilter had put the work away for awhile to work on a different project and when she came back to it a mouse leapt out as she unrolled the quilt; to honor the fact that the mouse hadn’t damaged her work, she stitched his image onto it.
“We’re not a history museum, we’re an art museum,” says Edwards. “You won’t see the history of quilting and we don’t own any antique quilts in our collection because we’re a contemporary quilt museum—we only collect quilts dated 1980 or later. We often have exhibits that include antique quilts, but we don’t own any in our collection.” For example, there’s currently an exhibit of Civil War Period Quilts.
“This is an experiential museum,” says Edwards. “A lot of people are so touched by the beauty, workmanship, and stories behind the quilts” that they are brought to tears, “whether they are quilters or not. Everyone has a story about a quilt and maybe one of the quilts will touch you or remind you or take you back. A lot of emotion comes up with visitors here.”
Quilts in the collection are chosen by committee. Some have won awards from the American Quilt Society. Many are donated. Donations that aren’t added to the collection are auctioned off each April during the Museum’s annual fundraiser.
If you like art, this museum is a must.
The National Quilt Museum of the United States
215 Jefferson Street
Paducah, KY 42001
-Photos courtesy The National Quilt Museum of the U.S.
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