with photography by Tony Youngblood
Paducah, Kentucky is a town of about 25,000 people that boasts a cobble stoned downtown, an arts enclave, and the “Wall to Wall Mural Project” of over 50 murals that adorn the floodgate. It’s also the home of an Artist Relocation Program that offers incentives to artists who will move to Paducah and hopefully contribute to its evolving scene. It’s just about two hours north of Nashville, which is just perfect for a weekend trip.
This sleepy artistic village is transformed each year for one week as Paducah dons the badge of “Quilt City USA”, and 40,000 quilters and artists flock to the Four-Rivers Area for workshops, contests, shopping, and a huge quilt expo. The show ran this year from April 23rd – 26th and included plenty for the palates of veteran quilters and those new to the craft. As a beginner quilter myself, I was thrilled to see such diversity in style and conception. The crowd was predictably retired, although part of me was surprised: there are a lot of young contemporary quilters out there, but I was the lone thirty-something last Saturday.
It doesn’t matter so much because there was tons to take in. The expo showed hundreds of quilts from the U.S. and abroad, most notably Japan,Egypt, and Australia. Contests were sponsored by machine and fabric companies such as Moda and Janome, and categories ranged from hand quilted bed quilts to miniature quilts.
One highlight was an Egyptian artist hand quilting at top speed, cutting fabric as he sewed. I pulled this video of the same guy off YouTube from last years AQS show.
He has been quilting for thirty-five years and works ten to twelve hours a day. Here’s a finished quilt made in Egypt in the same way:
The studio quilt collection was definitely my favorite. I veer toward these nonconventional beauties that do strange, amazing things with the color wheel, add texture, show stitches, and bend traditional block patterns. Artists often dye their own fabric, use silk screening, or paint the fabric using various media. These quilts bring out something that I love about quilts in general: they’re recycled pieces of art, made from scraps. They grew popular because they were useful and inexpensive. While studio quilts are not known for their utility, they share the spirit of reuse.
Studio quilts also speak to me of landscapes. This quilt below made me think of my old neighborhood in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Intersected by the toxic Gowanus Canal, it’s a skinny slice of Kings County.
Modern quilts also tend to use mixed media. This studio quilt used what looks like brass.
Keep going for more studio quilts!
While these studio quilts left me in awe, I wished that there were more of them, and that they weren’t hidden in a back room. I might not have found them if my boyfriend hadn’t scouted the scene for me. The fact is that a lot of women and men are creating quilts that have a fresh perspective, but if you use the AQS show as a guide, the quilt world is not evolving as quickly as its quilters are. I’d love to see more studio quilts and untraditional perspectives like these. Then, perhaps AQS would draw a younger crowd–a crowd that will be its future.
Here’s the Best in Show. When I read that the entire quilt was stitched by hand, I admired the craftsmanship. It most likely is technically a masterpiece. But it doesn’t make me feel any kind of way.
Some traditional bed quilts and wall quilts really were thrilling. I especially loved checking out the Japanese quilts, like these ones.
I like these because they engage colors and shapes that I don’t normally see together.
And check out this lovely echo quilting:
The miniature collections didn’t get more fun than this one “For the Baby Mice”:
And the quilt below takes a modern look at the traditional log cabin:
Here’s my final favorite:
Shopping was insanely fun. I scored some gorgeous hand-dyed and printed fabric from Quilt Tapestry Studio, met some very passionate folks from Accomplish Quilting (they’re opening a store in Nashville, ya’ll!), fell in love with Australian Aboriginal and Robert Kaufman prints at Color By Hand, and discovered Tambani Applique Blocks. Tambani is a quilting and embroidering collective in the northern part of South African from a culture that is rich in folklore. They make blocks that tell these traditional African tales. Their brochure says, “The women are poor, illiterate and unemployed. Husbands often drift toward the cities, many never return.” Not only do these blocks carry out their oral tradition, but they also employ the women who make them; they keep all of the profit.
I also picked up this stunning batik from . The owner, Mary Ogwell, is from Kenya and gave us a great deal because she was anxious to close up and see her newborn grandson in Phoenix.
Finally, a true highlight was getting on a long armer for the very first time. Someday, when I am making a living as a quilter, perhaps I will look back at the Paducah Quilt Show as the day I found my calling!
As soon as I got home, I started my own art quilt. (blush.)