Pilgrimage to Paducah – A Quilt Week Experience

Quilt Week in Paducah KY

Exploring the Arts in Paducah , KY – A UNESCO Creativity City – Part 1

It may seem odd that the subject of an inaugural post would be about traveling to Paducah, but to a quilter this is near to being a pilgrimage to Mecca.  I visited Paducah for my first Quilt Week experience this spring, and found lots of creativity besides just the quilting kind.

I imagine some might be a little challenged to pinpoint Paducah on a map of the US – it’s in Kentucky, across the Ohio river from the southernmost curvy tip of the state of Illinois. But, in 2013 UNESCO, put Paducah on the world map as a Creativity City of Crafts and Folk Art, recognizing the city for its role in promoting creativity through quilting and the fiber arts.

Painted quilt blocks on the windows of an old 5-and-dime store

Modern quilting has come a long way since our grandmother’s patchwork crazy quilts made from recycled scrap fabric.  The most recent market survey data (from 2014 – survey is done every 4 years) indicates the US quilting market is worth in excess of 3.76 billion dollars, with about 16 million women and men actively pursuing their fiber art passions – or about one in 20 people. That’s a huge economic punch – and that does not include the economic contributions from quilters around the globe – countries like Australia, Japan, the UK, the Netherlands and others, where quilting is just as popular as in the US.

Paducah is known as Quilt City, and I am here this week for the quilting event of the year – the annual spring AQS (American Quilter Society) Quiltweek® event (April 26-29). I am here because I was honored to have one of my quilts accepted into the show’s quilt contest. There are many juried quilt contests in the US, but this is one of the most prestigious with over $120,000 in prizes and with a $20,000 cash award to the Best of Show winner. For the major award winners, their cash prizes are actually purchase prizes as those quilts become the property of the National Quilt Museum in Paducah. So if you think you may have a winning quilt, one that probably took hundreds of hours to make, you have to do some serious soul searching to decide if you would be willing to part with it.

Visit the National Quilt Museum

A visit to the National Quilt Museum will most definitely impress the Quilt as an Artform, with fabric and thread as the pallet. Indeed, today’s superstar designers of the quilting world are as well known and revered as Picasso, Van Goh and Monet. The museum was founded by Bill and Meredith Schroeder, and is the largest facility in the world dedicated to quilting. It exhibits rotating displays from its permanent collection of over 500 quilts, as well as traveling exhibits representing the works of top worldwide fabric artists. The museum also offers educational programs for all ages and skill levels, including programs for youths in grades K-12 and organizations such as 4H and Girl Scouts.

Port of Cassis
by Lenore Crawford, Midland, Michigan
Machine pieced, painted, fused, raw-edge applique, machine quilted
From the collection of the National Quilt Museum
Corona II: Solar Eclipse
by Caryl Bryer Fallert, Paducah, KY
Hand-dyed fabrics; machine pieced and machine quilted.
Named one of the 100 Best American Quilts of the 20th Century.
From the collection of the National Quilt Museum

Quilting however is not the only art on view in Paducah. The city has been drawing in artists through its Artist’s Relocation Program in which the city offered financial incentives for artist to take over and renovate the run down buildings in the historic Lower Town section of the city. As a result, the twenty blocks of Paducah’s historic downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now a haven for studios and art galleries. And in the nearby Paducah School of Art and Design, local artists and students work side by side, sharing and learning from each other.

The historic buildings of Paducah’s Lower Town have been beautifully restored

Explore Paducah’s Floodwall Murals

The most visible public art in Paducah however is the city’s large floodwall which has become a canvas of over 50 life-sized panoramic murals by Robert Dafford and his Murals Team. With over 350 murals across the US, as well as France, Belgium, England and Canada, he is one of the most prolific mural artists around, and, according to his website, covers more square footage than the Sistine Chapel every couple of years. His recent works have focused on the Ohio River Valley in the US, with murals depicting historic events in Portsmouth Ohio, Covington Kentucky, and other cities along the Ohio River. The Paducah flood wall murals depict in vivid detail the city’s historic events from the time when the Indians liven on the riverbanks, through the passage of the Lewis and Clark expedition, through the time when Paducah was a steamboat and railway hub and finally to the 1950’s when the city became home to a Gaseous Diffusion plant for uranium enrichment.

Paducah’s floodwall helps protect the city from devastating floods
like the ones that occurred in 1884, 1913, and 1937.
A small section of the 50 murals that decorate Paducah’s floodwall
One of the murals depicts downtown as it appeared in the 1940’s

The Paducah Quilt Show

But THE BIG event this week is the quilt show.  Paducah’s population of about 25,000 more than doubles during this week’s Quiltweek® as over 30,000 US and international quilting enthusiasts engulf the area to participate in a variety of quilting activities. The show is kicked off with the awards ceremony on Tuesday evening in the large theater venue of the Carson Center – an event that presents as much anticipation as an Oscar ceremony in the film industry. The ceremony is presided over by a quilt industry personality MC – this year Victoria Findlay Wolfe had the honors.  This year’s contest had 403 quilt semifinalists.  The entrants represented 44 states and 14 countries. The states with the most entries? – California and Illinois with 25 each. Second to the US with the number of entries was Japan with 56. I don’t envy the judges’ difficult decisions to pick the winners from the many exquisite pieces. Besides receiving checks, ribbons and bragging rights, the major award winners also receive a beautiful engraved crystal trophy vase.

The 5 quilts that received purchase awards and will become part of the
National Quilt Museum’s permanent collection

Along with the quilt contests, there are also special quilt themed exhibits like the Lion King Challenge, art quilts from Europe and quilt exhibits by renowned individual quilt artists. There are numerous classes and workshops for all skill levels and interests taught by world renowned instructors. And of course there is shopping with a huge vendor mall at the show and many fabric shops within the city to help grow the US industry to that 4 billion mark. And besides the main event at the convention center, a variety of other quilt displays and activities occur throughout the city all week.  So much to do – so little time!

A few of the many Lion King themed quilts on display
The largest quilt fabric shop in the US-Hancocks of Paducah. The photo shows only about one fourth of the store

So how did my quilt do in the competition?  No award this time. Though I did get to wear a ‘contestant” ribbon with my name tag while attending the show.  With so many quilts in the competition entered by some of the industry’s best artists, I felt honored and humbled to be in such creative and skilled company. Finally, I would be remiss not to thank Cindy Carey of North Star Quilting for her meticulous longarm quilting of my design.

More posts to come about my trip to Paducah.

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Thanks for visiting.




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