Photo: Jesse Adams

Kentucky's National Quilt Museum Will Make You Fall in Love With Textile Masterpieces

by Morgane Croissant Aug 25, 2022

Paducah, Kentucky, is Quilt City USA. Over the past few decades, the town of less than 30,000 people has become a center for quilting thanks to passionate quilter Meredith Schroeder. Schroeder founded the American Quilter’s Society (AQS) in 1984 and co-founded the National Quilt Museum in 1991 with her husband, Bill. Those two events elevated and brought much-deserved recognition to the art of quilting. It also defined Paducah as an artist town.

Those who smirk at the idea of quilting as a museum-worthy art form should make their way to Paducah and get ready to eat their hats. The National Quilt Museum displays contemporary quilts that boggle the mind with their beauty and intricacies. No matter how you currently feel about quilting, you won’t be bored or disappointed here.

I visited the National Quilt Museum and talked to its CEO Matt Collinsworth to give you the lowdown on this exceptional cultural venue.

When is the National Quilt Museum open?

Paducah’s Quilt Museum is open from Monday to Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM. It’s also open on Sunday between March 1 and November 30, 1 PM to 5 PM.

The museum is closed on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Ticket price for the National Quilt Museum

A ticket to the museum costs $12 for adults, $11 for people over 62, and $5 for students. Military personnel, children under the age of 12, and museum members enter for free.

Tickets are available for purchase at the front desk of the museum the day you want to visit. There is no advance ticket purchase online.

When is the National Quilt Museum free?

While there are no set free days at Paducah’s Quilt Museum, there are certain occasions when entrance is free. Local residents can visit the museum for free in March. The museum also waives the admission fee to coincide with certain local events.

How much time do I need to visit Paducah’ Quilt Museum?

Example of a beautiful quilt at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY

“Forest Walk” by Pat Durbin. Photo: Jesse Adams

The museum is a relatively small space. If you’re the type of museum-goer who is thorough about admiring the works, looking at the explanation cards beside the pieces, and visiting the gift shop, then you’ll probably be there for just over one hour. Collinsworth says the average visitor spends 60 to 90 minutes in the galleries, which is a good amount of time to appreciate the beauty of every quilt displayed.

Where is Paducah’s Quilt Museum and how to get there?

The National Quilt Museum is located in the beautiful and artsy town of Paducah, Kentucky. The best way to get to the museum is by car. It’s about 140 miles from Nashville (about a 2.5 hour drive) and 180 miles from Memphis (a 3.5 hour drive).

Paducah is often one of the stops on American Queen’s steamboats itineraries on the Ohio River, and the museum is usually offered as one of the free excursions for passengers.

Address: 215 Jefferson Street, Paducah, KY 42001, US

Parking at the National Quilt Museum

Parking at Paducah’s Quilt Museum is free. There are two parking lots to accommodate visitors, including room for RVs and trucks. Alternatively, you can park on the nearby streets.

The best time to visit the National Quilt Museum

The museum is rich in works of art, but it’s a small museum in a small town, so you’ll never really have to worry about crowds. The only times when the museum may be busier than usual is when the American Queen steam boats are docked in Paducah and during the annual American Quilter’s Society QuiltWeek (an event that art lovers should strive to attend). That said, you’d be hard pressed to ever see a line for tickets at the front desk. As Collinsworth explains, “really, there is no bad time to visit the museum or our home city.”

What makes the National Quilt Museum so special?

"The Beatles Quilt" at the National Quilt Museum

“The Beatles Quilt” by Sisters Pat Holly and Sue Nickels. Photo: Jesse Adams

When Collinsworth speaks about what he thinks is so unique about Paducah’s Quilt Museum, he doesn’t first mention the fact that it is clearly underrated as an art venue. Instead, he mentions the artists.

“Whereas most art museums in America and around the world have scrambled to acquire more works by women over the past decade, 95 [percent] of our collected and exhibited quilts were made by women,” Collinsworth says.

If you needed another reason to make your way to Paducah’s Quilt Museum, this is it.

The best tip for visiting Paducah’s Quilt Museum

Because there are no crowds and the museum is rather small, it’s easy to see every single work of art. Unlike in large and extremely popular museums, you don’t have to skip anything or rush through galleries. Collinsworth insists that you should take the time to really take in all the quilts and admire the details — it’s very much worth it.

Must-sees at the National Quilt Museum

Quilt made of wood at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY

Quilt made of wood by Fraser Smith. Photo: Jesse Adams

While the museum is obviously a space dedicated to textile art, with amazing displays of contemporary quilts, the one thing that will blow your mind above all else is Fraser Smith’s wood quilt displayed in the lobby. You would never guess that this piece is made of carved and painted wood unless you read the explanation card. Smith specializes in wood carvings that resemble textiles, such as quilts, coats, and hats. Take the time to look at this piece, but know that no matter how long you stare at it, it won’t ever look like wood.

Quilt featuring puffins at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY

“Puffins” by Shirley P. Kelley. Photo: Jesse Adams

Among all the quilts displayed in the museum, my personal favorite is “Puffins,” a 2004 creation by quilter Shirley P. Kelley. It’s hard to fathom that such a level of artistry can be achieved with fabric and a sewing machine.

Tours and audio guides at Paducah’s Quilt Museum

The collections rotate regularly, and new exhibitions happen so often that there are no guided tours or audio guides at the museum. But that’s hardly an issue. The explanation cards beside each piece provide enough details. However, if you have any questions, Collinsworth suggests you address them to the friendly and knowledgeable docents who walk the galleries.

Paducah’s Quilt Museum gift shop

The National Quilt Museum gift shop offers a variety of items relating to quilting, postcards featuring some of the museum’s pieces, and the works of local artists such as ceramics, among many other disciplines. A few quilts are also available for sale.

AQS QuiltWeek and The National Quilt Museum

AQS QuiltWeek (AQS stands for American Quilter’s Association) is an event that takes place annually in the spring in Paducah. During AQS QuiltWeek, visitors can take quilt classes, attend lectures, and shop for fabrics, quilting tools, and more. There are also quilt exhibits and quilt contests.

During AQS QuiltWeek, the museum hosts an auction and reception for the museum members.

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