PADUCAH, Ky. — If there is a center of the universe for quilters, it is Paducah, Ky., where The National Quilt Museum makes its home and the American Quilter’s Society holds its biggest quilt show and contest of the year during QuiltWeek, this year April 18-21.
“We love the quilt show,” said Frank Bennett, chief executive officer of The National Quilt Museum. “The spring show is our busiest week of the year.”
The nonprofit museum was opened in 1991 through a gift from Paducah philanthropists Bill and Meredith Schroeder, who felt quilt makers were underappreciated as artists. The facility is now a global destination art museum with about 600 permanent collection pieces and numerous traveling collections rotating through its rooms throughout the year.
More than 110,000 visitors from all 50 states and 45 countries come to the museum annually, and an additional 6,000 adults and students take part in educational programming. Seventy percent of the guests are from within a 300-mile radius of Paducah.
“Our mission is to honor the work of today’s quilters ... to understand that these people are artists at the same level as artists in any other medium,” Bennett said. “What we have here runs the gamut from plays off of traditional quilts — log cabin (patterns) and things like that — to things that are like nothing you’ve ever seen. But that happens in every art medium.”
Pieces vary in format from king-size to miniature, and not all are two dimensional. Bennett said the museum will always feature at least one piece that is not a flat square so visitors understand that the art form doesn’t have to take a particular shape.
“I’m not allowed to declare a favorite, but I will say that I’ve been here for seven years, and I’m constantly amazed by innovation,” Bennett said. “Just when I think it can’t get better ... I see something I never imagined could be conceived of.”
The National Quilt Museum offers items in its collection to other art museums on loan.
“I tell people that when everyone around the world has experienced the work of these artists, then I can retire,” Bennett said. “At the end of the day, we want to reach as many people with this art form as we possibly can.”
The spring QuiltWeek is one of those opportunities. Although AQS is a separate entity from the museum, the same founder of the museum, Meredith Schroeder, is the society’s founder and current president.
AQS started in 1984 and has held shows in Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa, Michigan, California and Virginia. The annual Paducah spring show is its longest running and biggest event. Between 30,000 and 32,000 visitors are expected. In the past, they have come from 45 states and 15 countries.
“Paducah is on the bucket list of ‘most every quilter,” said Bonnie Browning, AQS QuiltWeek show director.
More than 700 quilts will be on display, with 404 of those being contest quilts competing for $125,000 in prize money.
Special exhibits will include “Art in Denim” by Ian Berry, “Quilts That Speak” by artist and musician Ricky Tims, contemporary quilts from Brazil and the U.S., miniature quilts and 120 pieces in the style of French painter Vincent Van Gogh.
“We try very hard that in the scope of what you are going to see at AQS QuiltWeek is everything from that very traditional quilt that Grandma used to make to the avant garde quilts that are made now out of all silk, and they’re loaded with beads and crystals, and they put paint on it,” Browning said. “We try to make sure that we cover everything from one end of that spectrum to the other.”
A number of Midwest quilters earned a coveted place in the juried competition, including Karen Mommsen of Rice Lake, who has had four quilts accepted at past Paducah shows.
“My first quilt I sent there, I took first place in my class, which was very exciting,” Mommsen said. “I haven’t had anything place since then, but I feel it’s an honor to be accepted, so I’m thrilled to death.”
Her “Vikingsholm” pattern features Scandinavian motifs on royal blue. Mommsen and her husband operate Mommsen Produce Patch.
Sharyl Schlieckau of Loganville will be competing with her quilt “Memories of Hailey.” She said she designed and pieced the quilt front more than 11 years ago when her dog, Hailey, was just a pup. Hailey was always with Schlieckau in her sewing room, including during the dog’s last days before she died of cancer a year ago.
“She saw every stitch, because she was by me every day,” Schlieckau said.
Schlieckau has competed at Paducah about 10 times and has always received some kind of award.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I mean, this is worldwide competition, so it’s hard,” she said. “I’m always real honored when that happens. To get back in this year is special.”
Peggy Marquardt of Rhinelander will have two quilts in the competition, “Starburst” and “Aurora Borealis.” Several others of her quilts have placed in competitions, and in March, Aurora won second place in its class at the AQS Daytona Beach show.
“AQS is pretty much one of the top-of-the-line quilt shows,” Marquardt said. “For me, it’s an honor to even be accepted. To win is, ‘Holy cow!’ ”
She said the Aurora quilt is actually a second try at the pattern, which features fluorescent thread and multi-color rickrack on black fabric.
QuiltWeek judging will take place April 14-15. The top prizes — best in show, best hand workmanship, best home machine workmanship, best long-arm workmanship, best wall quilt and best miniature quilt — are purchase prizes. If the winners choose to accept the cash awards and part with their quilts, they are donated to The National Quilt Museum.
If you go
American Quilter’s Society Spring Show, “QuiltWeek.”
When: April 18-21; Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Schroeder Expo Center, 415 Park St., Paducah, Ky.
Activities: Quilt exhibit, contests, demonstrations, workshops, book sale and vendors.
Cost: AQS members, $11.20; nonmembers, $14; additional multiday deals.
The National Quilt Museum.
When: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. March 1 through Nov. 30.
Where: 215 Jefferson St., Paducah, Ky.
Cost: Adults, $11; over 62, $10; students, $5; under 12, free.
Information: https://quiltmuseum.org or 270-442-8856.