The show must go on. That was the decision of American Quilt Society (AQS) organizers in the face of threatening weather. The AQS Quilt Show and Contest is in its 27th year in Paducah, Kentucky. Because of the ingenuity and hard work of organizers and volunteers, the 2011 show opened on schedule on Wednesday, April 27th and will run through Saturday, April 30th. Show events include workshops, a fashion show, awards ceremony and the screening of a movie about quilting called “Stitches”. According to event materials, there are 386 quilts vying for $120,000 in cash prizes.
The show has grown over the years from a one room event to multiple locations hosting related events. Last year’s challenge – the closure of Executive Inn and the resulting loss of use of its space - was conquered with an inflatable tent.
The tent, known as the Pavilion, is back this year. It doesn’t look or feel like a tent once visitors pass through the airlock revolving doors. A large skylight, white walls, carpets and a maze of colorful quilts fill the space with light and color.
What is not back this year is the use of the Julian Carroll Convention & Exposition Center. The Center is located on the other side of the now closed flood wall gates. Waters from the Ohio River lap at the base of Paducah’s floodwall. Around the downtown area, flood gates are closed for the first time in years. Organizers had to find spaces for the many vendors who bring their very specialized products to the show and for the overflow of the nine hundred plus quilts accepted into the show.
Vendors were relocated to the empty Office Max and Circuit City buildings near Kentucky Oaks Mall. It’s a clever use of big empty spaces. It has the benefit of plenty of parking and room to move around. From the crowd circulating and shopping, no one seemed to notice or mind the change.
Workshops will go on every day at the First Baptist Church on Broadway. Buses shuttle participants around to the events. An open air food court is set up near the American Quilt Museum.
This is, I am ashamed to admit, my first time attending the Quilt Show. The show runs during my day job and old timers in the area warned that Paducah during Quilt Week was not the Paducah we visit often. Swelled by 30,000 quilt enthusiasts, the town becomes grand central station for enthusiasts speaking the language of thread and cloth. I’ve been to the AQS Museum in Paducah several times and it is on our “must share with visitors” list.
My friend, Cherry Pyron, goes every year and she pooh-poohed the stay away warning of other locals. She worked at the Quilt Show and enjoyed the experience. The Quilt Show yearly is a chance for her to greet old friends and see what’s new. She agreed to shepherd the newby around and explain some of the ins and outs of the show.
Quilts come from 18 countries, including Australia, Korea and Japan. Japanese quilters have 91 quilts this year. Not all quilts submitted get into the show. Entrants don’t just mail the quilt. They send a CD-Rom of their entry. If they are accepted, then they send the quilt to the show.
Quilts are judged in fifteen categories, arranged into four groups: bed quilts, large wall quilts, small wall quilts and miniatures. Within the four groups, quilts are further divided into subdivisions.
The Best of Show Quilt, called Paisley Peacock, is a feast for the eyes. Cherry told me that the artist, Pat Holly of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has won in the past. Her sister also quilts and exhibits.
Quilts come in an array of styles and colors and materials. The variations in theme and style is dizzying. Quilters in the AQS Quilt Show and Contest aren’t “just” quilters. They are artists.
The photos that accompany this story do little justice to their subjects. The stitching, fabric, construction, colors don’t come through in a photo. They have to be seen to be appreciated. Many of the quilts are three dimensional. Others shine and sparkle. Some are quiet warm hues. Others jump off the walls with startling color combinations.
This year’s show was my first. It won’t be my last. And I won’t be waiting 26 years until I go again. Next year, I plan to take my husband along. He can’t sew either. But he does appreciate art.