At the National Quilting Museum, there's a strict rule about not touching the quilts and fabric art hanging throughout the 27,000 square feet of exhibit space. But wanting to reach out and feel what's on display is an understandable temptation for many of the 40,000 annual visitors who can't believe what they're seeing.

At first glance, many of the quilts in this "material world" can be mistaken for photography, oil paintings, or any number of other, highly esteemed visual art forms. However, when people peer closely at the pieces, confirming that what they're seeing really is made of fabric, they are amazed. "If not already a believer, everyone who visits the museum leaves converted as to the magnificence behind the museum's many masterpieces," says Museum CEO Frank Bennett. "What's more, he says, they come away with a new sense of respect for what's been one of the most misunderstood, yet growing art forms in the world."

"When people think 'art,' quilting doesn't pop into mind, and that's a mindset we're changing," says Bennett, a 37-year-old business writer and former consultant, who put his own business aside two years ago to become the CEO of the world's largest destination museum dedicated exclusively to quilting and fiber art. "In every way, quilting is as much art as a sculpture or a painting is art. Today's top quilt artists are on par with world-class artists of all kinds, and that's why people travel from all over the globe to visit The National Quilting Museum." In addition to running the Museum, Bennett is a passionate advocate for quilting as an artform and vital form of artistic expression, often speaking and writing on the topic.

According to the Quilting in America™ 2010 study, 14 percent of United States households are home to at least one quilter, with an estimated 21 million quilters nationwide. Dedicated quilters, or those spending $600+ on quilting annually, tend to be affluent ($91,602 HH income) women who annually spend $2,442 on average. At 62-years-old, they're a little younger than the average golfer and started quilting, again on average, when they were 46.

"Quilting keeps building its following, yet it's an artform that's doesn't always get the respect it deserves," Bennett says. "Unfortunately, quilting has often been seen as second-tier art largely because the most-esteemed quilt artists are women, and some people within our society still don't truly respect women as equal in art circles. For example, I often ask an audience of people not involved with the arts to name one woman artist who is nationally respected — most can't do it. They can name Picasso, Monet, Dali, and several other famous men, but no women. Getting quilting on the radar of the arts requires eradicating such stereotypes and their symptoms. If a person truly judges the work without any bias toward the artist or the materials, they will see that it deserves the same respect that other forms of art receive."

A living, national treasure of sorts, the National Quilt Museum works to advance the art of quilting by bringing it to new and expanding audiences worldwide. Every year, over 110,000 people of all ages are being "wowed" and "inspired" by what this "material world" represents, through the Museum's permanent, revolving and traveling showcases.

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About the National Quilting Museum

The Museum is the world's largest and most prestigious museum devoted to quilts and fiber art. A destination for art enthusiasts worldwide, annually the Museum welcomes visitors from all 50 U.S. states and over 40 foreign countries from every continent. The Museum's onsite and travelling exhibits are viewed by over 110,000 people per year. In addition, over 6,000 youth and adults participate in the Museum's educational opportunities on an annual basis. 

The Museum is located in a 27,000-square-foot facility in historic downtown Paducah, Kentucky.