Fiber art experts have made Paducah, Kentucky, a colorful, welcoming place. By Kathryn Lemmon
Do you know a quilter? If so, Paducah, Kentucky, may be a place they recognize. It's been dubbed Quilt City, USA.
Paducah is a town of 25,000 residents, situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, and within a few miles of the Cumberland and Mississippi rivers. Unlike some small towns, it is thriving. In 2000, Paducah prudently began offering incentives to artisans willing to relocate into downtown Victorian-style houses. The plan played a pivotal role in revitalizing the town and creating a vibrant atmosphere.
That ambience adds to the appeal when visitors head to the town’s most famous attraction: the National Quilt Museum, which opened in 1991.
Art That Warms The Heart
Expect to be surprised. The dry phrase “fiber art” takes on an entirely new meaning after your visit. Words like breathtaking, awe-inspiring, phenomenal, and even masterpiece are used to describe the quilts on display.
In any given year, the museum, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kentucky, welcomes visitors from all 50 states and 40 different countries. It’s made Paducah a must-do pilgrimage for avid quilters. The 30,000-square-foot museum includes a lobby with large, stained-glass windows that feature — you guessed it — quilt patterns.
Everyone will feel welcome here, from those who stitch to those who can’t thread a needle. Many a spouse has reluctantly agreed to stay an hour and happily stayed two.
The museum feels like an art gallery, with quilts displayed on the walls under skillfully positioned lighting that focuses on their intricate stitching and color variations. The quilts have colorful titles, such as “Indiana Crazy,” “Fire Dragon Rhapsody,” and “Star Struck.” Knowledgeable docents and staff are on hand to answer questions.
Quilts take on greater significance in today's fast-paced society, when 15 minutes is considered too long to write a “real” letter or cook a meal. A typical quilt takes months or years to complete.
The quilt museum is an active, evolving place. Activities include "quilt challenges" that stretch the limits on traditional patterns, such as the popular Jacob's Ladder or the Double Wedding Ring. Participating artists must think outside the box, as the competition is fierce. The judges have as much of a challenge as the artisans. Workshops and all things quilt-related keep the institution vibrant.
You can expect to see fiber art from the permanent collection of more than 320 quilts, as well as regularly changing touring and thematic exhibits. At any given time, 50 to 60 quilts are on display, as they are rotated in and out for variety. An entire collection of miniature quilts (no more than 24 inches on a side) also brightens up a portion of the museum.
Through the years, fabric artists have roughly split into traditionalists and art quilters. Both groups influence each other as the art form continues to stretch the boundaries. Some past exhibits have explored specific patterns, such as baskets or variations in the Kentucky log cabin design. Other exhibits have included miniatures, scrap quilts, and those with hand-quilted or pieced borders.
You won't believe your eyes when you see the wooden quilt. Yes, wood! "Floating," created by artist Fraser Smith, is on permanent display. Mr. Smith makes wood sculptures that mimic fabric and leather; this piece was created from basswood. Now, that is a unique concept.
You may have a quilt story, too, so here is mine: For 30 years I've stored my grandma's patchwork quilts, made during the 1930s and ‘40s. I get a chuckle when I see the heavy-duty feed sacks she used to make their backs. (Now, if I just knew how to properly clean them!)
Other Town Delights
Even fabric fanatics need to eat, eventually. Max's Brick Oven Café is a perpetual favorite, with American and Italian dishes on the menu. Flamingo Row brings the tropical flair of the Caribbean to Paducah. Kirchhoff's Bakery & Deli receives high marks for its sandwiches and baked goods. Customers can't get enough of their cranberry walnut bread. If the weather is fine, take sandwiches from Kirchhoff's to the river for a relaxing picnic with a river breeze.
A number of quilting and fabric stores have opened in Paducah as an offshoot of the museum. Shops offer vintage fabrics and retired patterns that delight a quilter’s heart.
Paducah’s downtown area is a block or so from the Ohio River, where a flood wall protects the town. And on the wall are beautified murals.
Like quilts, the murals transform something purely functional into art. Most scenes are snapshots of historic Paducah; the paddlewheel riverboat was my favorite for its realism. The artwork was created by artist Robert Dafford and his team. One of America's most prolific mural artists, Mr. Dafford has also worked in Canada, France, Belgium, and England.
You may want to schedule your visit to Paducah to coincide with the annual Dogwood Trail Celebration in mid-April. The original two-block trail was marked in 1964 but has expanded into a 10-mile tour of lighted dogwood trees and flowering gardens. Other special events such as a photography contest and a bike ride accompany the main event. Dates for next year’s event will be announced when it’s evident that blooms will be at their peak.
Also in April is the annual QuiltWeek, which draws thousands of international and domestic quilters to Paducah. The American Quilt Society puts on this fair at the Paducah Expo & Convention Center, as well as at downtown venues. It includes vendors, demonstrations, classes, contests, and more. The next AQS QuiltWeek in Paducah is April 22-25, 2015.
Quilts have come a long way from Grandma's feather bed. They withstood the machine age and have become a superb combination of artistry and craftsmanship. A quilt is folk art, Americana, and an heirloom of love in practical form. Where else could you find so many things rolled into one?
National Quilt Museum
215 Jefferson St.
Paducah, KY 42001
In winter months (December, January, and February), the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; the remainder of the year it is open on Sunday also, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Ample parking is available for motorhomes.
The following may not be a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or the RV Marketplace, published in the June and January issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com for more listings.
Duck Creek RV Park
2540 John L. Puryear Drive
Paducah, KY 42001
Fern Lake Campground
5535 Cairo Road
Paducah, KY 42001
Victory RV Park and Campground
4300 Shemwell Road
Paducah, KY 42003
Paducah/I-24/Kentucky Lake KOA
4793 U.S. 62
Calvert City, KY 42029
(800) 562-8540 reservations
(270) 395-5841 information
A Super Side Trip
The "hometown" of Superman himself — Metropolis, Illinois — is only 14 miles northwest from Paducah. There you can compare your height to a super-sized (15-foot-tall) bronze statue of the Man of Steel in Superman Square. A few blocks away, at the corner of Eighth and Market streets, is a life-sized bronze statue of actress Noel Neill as Lois Lane. And a globe is situated outside the Metropolis Planet newspaper offices on East Fifth Street. All of these are just perfect for photo opportunities.
Don't miss the Super Museum, also on Superman Square. It has all kinds of props and artifacts from Superman TV shows and movies, including typewriters and phones once used by Superman’s pal Clark Kent. Historical items like Superman toys, plates, cups, clothing, and more fill the shelves. The adjacent store is stocked with a selection of Superman-related souvenirs.
The Super Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in fall, winter, and spring, and from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in summer (618-524-5518; www.supermuseum.com).
For more information about the town, contact Metropolis Tourism at (877) 424-5025 or (618) 524-5025; www.metropolistourism.com.