How a Museum Casts a New Light

Hello again! This is Nancy with 24 Blocks and I’m still in a state of inspired awe and wonderment from my visit earlier this week to theNational Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. If you missed my previous post, “A Museum That Makes Us Look At Ourselves Differently“, you may want to catch up. We’re talking about quilting as art. We’re talking about why fabric arts have not historically been considered with the same sense of awe as would a great painting or sculpture. We’re talking about honoring today’s working quilters. We talking about valuing our own work and seeing ourselves as artists.

When you walk into the Museum you are immediately met by a knowledgeable docent who can help guide your visit. Traveling exhibits complement the Museum’s own collection. While I was there there were three special exhibits:

  • Backstitch“, celebrating the silver anniversary of the New England Quilt Museum by exploring the changes in quilting during the last 25 years thanks to new tools and influential teachers
  • “MasterPieces: Quilts of Inspiration“, featuring the most respected contemporary works of today’s quilting innovators. It celebrates the pushing of the envelope in fabric arts, in asking “What if…?”
  • Oh WOW! Minature Quilts“, honoring the works that are tiny, where the scale is the same as in full-size quilts, but the longest side is no more that 24 inches.

The Museum’s own permanent collection includes 530 quilts. Displays are rotated. Those not in the museum’s galleries are safety kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Together the special exhibits and the collection help introduce more people to fabric arts. About 40,000 people visit the museum each year. They come from every state in the Union and, last year, from 38 countries. Income for the museum’s operation and educational programs comes mainly from admission fees, the gift store and from grantors such as the Kentucky Arts Council.

The city of Paducah has also made a conscious decision to foster the arts as a tool for economic development. The city provides assistance for artists to relocate there. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Paducah the world’s seventh City of Crafts and Folk Art. Quilt shops, artists studios, galleries, and theaters are enhanced by, from my experience, some very nice restaurants and deli’s. It’s a small river town and that slow charm and “niceness” still lingers. The quilt museum and the quilt shows are literally part of the fabric of the place.

Below are a few more of the quilts I saw. They all cast a new light on quilting as art. I am so grateful to Mr. Frank Bennett, CEO of the Museum, for allowing me to photograph them and for his insight and obvious zeal in creating a top notch art museum that does bring honor to the work of quilters.

These two works, grouped together, caught my initial attention because of the opalescent colors and the shapes of the hanging sculptures at the left.

The hanging quilted pieces are by Priscilla Sage of Ames, Iowa, and are part of her “Winged Series” of 2011. Ms. Sage is fascinated with form. She draws inspiration “from the structure of natural forms that can be as small as mosses, as sinuous as the DNA helix, as vast as images from the Hubble telescope or as personal as the human body.” Her forms in this series are padded with the kind of material used in car ceilings!

The small and exquisite quilt to the right is by Gloria Hansen of East Windsor, New Jersey. It is called “Blushing Triangles 3“. Completed in 2008, it won the MODA Best Wall Quilt Award from the AQS Quilt Show and Contest that year. It is part of a series that repeats triangles in a way that explores color interaction. Ms. Hansen’s work is in the Museum’s permanent collection.

Sharon Schamber’s “Sedona Rose” won the “Best of Show” award at the 2006 AQS Quilt Show and Contest. Ms. Schamber lives in Payson, Arizona, and we can see in her work the bold beauty of the colors of the Southwest. The rose buds in the corners show the layers of the actual Sedona tea rose. The blues remind us of the dessert sky. In addition to this most striking quilt front, the back is studded with around 130,000 Swarovski crystals! It shimmers, catching and reflecting light.

Ms. Schamber’s quilt is in the Museum’s collection, an AQS Purchase Award Donation.

This stunning large quilt, finished in 2009, is named “Wings and Feathers”. It is by Mark Sherman of Coral Springs, Florida, and is on loan as part of the “Master Pieces: Quilts of Inspiration” exhibit.

Quilts that cause us to be willing to try new things, that shed new light on the recognition of our work as art, transcend form and color and technique. Maybe that’s what a good museum does.

You can learn more about the work and mission of the National Quilt Museum at

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