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Summer Travels: The Iowa Quilt Museum

Summer Travels: The Iowa Quilt Museum

Written by: 
Linzee McCray


IMG_4494 (1)Last summer we did a roundup of museums where you can enjoy quilts as works of art. And now, just in time for your holiday road trip, there’s an additional place to appreciate quilts at their finest—the Iowa Quilt Museum, in Winterset, Iowa.

IMG_4417 (1)I stopped in for the venue’s grand opening last Saturday and was welcomed by museum director Megan Barrett, guest curator Virginia Berger, and board member Marianne Fons. Marianne, as you likely know, is one-half the duo of Fons and Porter and Winterset is where the pair met, opened a quilt shop, and started Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting. Though retired from those ventures, Marianne is still actively involved in the quilting world, including with Quilts of Valor.

A hexagon star from 1875 to 1900. Note the cut-out corners to accommodate the foot posts of a bed.

While Marianne is on the board of directors, the Iowa Quilt Museum is actually the brainchild of a Winterset couple who invited her to coffee one day, to share their idea. Though she’d never organized a nonprofit or run a museum, Marianne knew who to reach out to and credits curators and directors of the International Quilt Study Center, the American Quilt Museum, and the New England Quilt Museum for helping get the ball rolling, writing letters of support, and consulting on logistics.

Marianne Fons welcomes visitors to the Grand Opening of the Iowa Quilt Museum. Marianne Fons welcomes visitors to the Grand Opening of the Iowa Quilt Museum.

“When Liz Porter and I met in a beginning quilting class at the ISU Extension Office on the east side of the Winterset town square in the mid 1970s, I never would have dreamed I'd be helping open a museum dedicated to quilts 40 years later, on an adjacent side,” says Marianne.

IMG_4484 (1)The museum’s first exhibition, Three Centuries of Red + White Quilts, was inspired by the 2011 New York Armory show Infinite Variety and features thirty quilts from various eras, gathered in record time by curator Virginia Berger. Included are pieced, appliquéd and embroidered quilts from the 1800s, sampler quilts from the 1900s, medallion quilts by Marianne and by Winterset resident and quilt designer Tony Jacobson, and contemporary quilts by Heather Jones and Victoria Findlay Wolfe. The red-and-white quilts are on display into October, when an exhibition of star quilts will take their place.

Detail from a c. 1920 redwork quilt. Detail from a c. 1920 redwork quilt.

Located in a former J.C. Penney building on Winterset’s historic town square, the museum sits across the street from the domed county courthouse and around the corner from the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum. (That’s the perfect venue for traveling companions who have had their fill of quilts—mine wandered over and returned to tell me that, among other facts, he learned that John Wayne was delivered by a female physician and that his first dog was named Duke.) Winterset is also set in Madison County, which served as the inspiration for the book and film The Bridges of Madison County. For a town with little more than 5,000 residents, there’s a lot to do and see.

IMG_4425 (1)“For those of us who love quilts, small non-collecting museums like the Iowa Quilt Museum are a way to share America's folk art heritage with the local public and visitors passing through,” says Marianne. “For Winterset, which also has a brand new, wonderful, full-service quilt shop, Piece Works, in the storefront once occupied by Fons & Porter, and a classic Ben Franklin Store operated by a quilter—all on the south side of the square—the quilting landscape has never looked better!

So grab your GPS and hit the highway! The Iowa Quilt Museum is open seven days a week. For information on hours of operation and more, visit their website.

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