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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/2/13

National Quilt Museum A Top Travel Destination

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If you want to give your family an "Oh, wow!" experience, make The National Quilt Museum(NQM) in Paducah, Ky., your travel destination.

Museum Chief Executive Officer Frank Bennett says  those unfamiliar with quilt art who walk through the museum doors for the first time, often exclaim, as he did, "Wow!"

"They have never seen anything like it and can't believe what they're seeing," he says. "Actually, we have a policy that if you are not blown away by what you see we will give you your admission back. We have never had someone ask for a refund and I doubt we ever will," Bennett said with a smile.

NQM is well known among the nation's 21 million quilters who regard it as the world's "mecca" of quilting. And it has been described by Forbes as "a massive tourist attraction," because it draws 40,000 visitors a year from all 50 states and 40 countries, earning Paducah the sobriquet  "Quilt City , USA ."

But millions of people who may have heard of The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Chicago Art Institute have never heard of NQM---and so are in for an eye-opening surprise. That's because, "Today's top quilt artists are creators on a par with world-class American artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth, Bennett says.

"I have always enjoyed art, but I've never had a 'Wow!' experience as I did when I first walked into the Museum's gallery and came into contact with its brilliant quilt and fiber art. I thought, "Everyone should experience this art form.' It's like nothing else," Bennett said.

"The work quilters' do in every way is as much art as sculpture is art, or painting is art. The only difference is that quilts are made out of fabric,"  Bennett goes on to say. A 37-year-old former business writer (" The Breathing Organization") and consultant who chose to put his own business aside two years ago to take the helm of the Paducah, KY, museum, the world's largest dedicated exclusively to quilting.

Bennett aims to transform the way the general public thinks about fabric art. He sees his mission as changing the notion that the best quilt art isn't at the caliber of the world's great paintings. Or that quilts were just something grandmother sewed to keep the family warm with maybe a simple pattern design on them for ornament.

Right now, the quilt community/business is growing and many newcomer men are becoming quilters as well. One of them, Richard Larson, of Plano, Tex., who quilts professionally for a living, has won more than 300 quilting show awards and exhibited in the NQM show last year titled "Quilting Reinvented: Longarm Quilters of the 21st Century." 

"Still," Bennett says, "we have men who visit our museum with their wives but sit in the lobby, saying, "This is not art, this is women's stuff." "When I tell them that I am the CEO and walk them into a gallery, you can see their perceptions change."

"This is the double standard I want to end," Bennett explains. "If fiber art is "a woman's thing,' does that mean sculpture made out of iron is "a man's thing?'" He goes on to say, "Art is the expression of a person's soul. Whether it is made out of fabric, iron, paper, or any other material is irrelevant."

Opened in 1991, NQM offers the public 27,000 sq.-ft. of the finest quilt and fiber art. Exhibits are changed approximately 10 times a year.  (Sherwood Ross, who writes on a wide variety of subjects, is a consultant to The National Quilt Museum.)  #
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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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