The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
The Iowa Quilt Museum
There are only a handful of museums in America dedicated to the art of the quilt. If you’ve got time in your schedule this summer, perhaps you can make time to visit one, even if it means a bit of a road trip. (Isn’t road-tripping what summers are for? Besides, our quilt museums need you!)
Those who can’t get away are in luck: Your trusty Quilt Scout is on a mission to take you around to these marvelous quilt museums through a series of interviews with those who make their existence possible.
Our tour begins with the Iowa Quilt Museum, which won’t surprise anyone who knows me: The Iowa Quilt Museum is located in Winterset, Iowa, the town where I was born. Obviously, I had to start with the museum closest to my heart and my childhood home.
When I’m in Winterset visiting my mom, I can get from our front door to the IQM in three minutes flat. As an added bonus, Pieceworks quilt shop is just a few doors down from the museum, right there on the town square, and all this is important if I am sewing with Mom and need inspiration or more fat quarters — and I always need those.
Megan Barrett, Iowa Quilt Museum Director. Image courtesy Megan Barrett.Though I gave the IQM the home court advantage,
I wasn’t so biased (or lazy) to just interview my mother. Even though Marianne was an early supporter of the museum and has worked tirelessly along with the rest of the board and countless community members behind the scenes and behind the gift shop counter, I thought it would better serve the reader to talk to the director of the museum, the indomitable Megan Barrett.
An Iowa girl herself, Museum Director Megan was born in nearby Osceola. Before coming to the IQM as Museum Director, the energetic mother of two was the choir teacher at Winterset High School. (Go Huskies!!) Megan guides the museum through short- and long-term projects, whether that’s strategic planning for funding or hanging the next exhibition. She directs operations and acts as the public face
for the non-profit, too. Megan lives with her husband Jon and children Bella and Graham in Winterset.
QS: Hi, Megan! So, when did the Iowa Quilt Museum open? And how did it all
MB: The idea for the IQM came from Winterset residents Pat and Nancy Corkrean. The first board of directors were all local stakeholders. A large proportion of the over $400K needed for the purchase of the building and renovations was raised within the community.
QS: I was going to ask about the community response!
MB: The community has been wildly supportive. The IQM is a great asset to Winterset and the business and tourism associations have been great supporters. We have nearly 50 volunteers from Winterset and surrounding communities who staff the museum six or seven days a week depending on the season, and our board has 11 members.
QS: Who is the audience are you serving? Do you specialize in certain kinds
MS: Our mission is to promote appreciation of the American quilt and the art of quilting. To that end, the only thing we don't really exhibit is international quilts. We want to showcase the broadness and depth of the art of quilting in America, so our exhibits encompass historical quilts, modern quilts, art quilts, and everything in between. We often feature quilts by Iowans or Midwesterners but have exhibited works by quilters from across the country.
QS: I think it’s smart to have that focus. As a smaller museum, it makes sense — and there’s so much to explore in just the American genre! What's been your biggest show? Why do you think it was so popular?
MB: Ooh, that's an interesting question! I went back through our attendance data and it looks like our very first exhibit was the most well-attended. The inaugural show was during peak of tourism season — and we were brand new, so people were checking us out. The next highest attended show was Judy Martin's Innovation Meets Tradition. Judy is an Iowa quilt artist with a strong following and her exhibit was striking: lots of Lone Star quilts and Log Cabins, almost all of them very big!
QS: Judy Martin is amazing; I’m not surprised that was so popular. And you have another big name in the gallery right now, I believe …
MB: Showing right now is Playing with Purpose: A Victoria Findlay Wolfe Retrospective. This is Victoria's first retrospective exhibit so we feel extremely honored to be displaying it.
Quilts on display look great from the old department store mezzanine. Image courtesy Iowa Quilt Museum.
QS: How far out do you plan exhibitions?
MB: We're completely planned through 2019, mostly planned for 2020 and are already making some plans for as far out as 2022.
QS: What has surprised you about the IQM?
MB: I have been surprised about how nearly everyone I encounter is so pleasant! One expects a certain percentage of human interactions to be unpleasant, but quilters and quilt lovers are just wonderful and gracious people.
QS: Do you make quilts? I mean, you’re pretty wonderful and gracious, Megan, so you’re halfway there …
MB: That’s another surprise! I want to be a quilter now. I have no quilting background and prior to two years ago never even considered it an interest, but now I'm starting to get the itch.
QS: Why is a quilt museum the perfect thing for the Winterset town square?
MB: Winterset is a quaint hometown and a tourist destination. This building, with its 14-foot tin ceilings and open floor plan was a perfect fit for a textile museum. The IQM adds attraction to Winterset while maintaining a kind of unassuming nature at the same time. We already had two stellar quilt shops just steps away so adding the IQM makes it a really great destination for quilters. Plus, lots of quilters who are familiar with Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting, which was started right here in Winterset, already associate Winterset with quilting.
QS: The IQM doesn't have an archive or preserve quilts; it's a gallery for exhibits only. For those who might wonder, why does a museum choose not to have its own collection or holdings?
MB: It's really a matter of practicality. To add the facilities to properly store and care for textiles would have been an enormous additional cost during renovation. Plus, we've never had any trouble borrowing quilts to display.
QS: What's the best part of your job?
MB: My husband and I moved to Winterset 12 years ago and fell in love with the town and the community. The best part of my job at the museum is that I can share my love of Winterset with literally thousands of people who visit us from across the state, country, and even from around the world.
The Winterset town square is the perfect place for the Iowa Quilt Museum, even if there aren’t any ghosts. Image courtesy Iowa Quilt Museum.QS: That is pretty cool, indeed. Thanks for talking with me, Megan. I’ll see you up on the square — you know I like to bum around the old neighborhood.
MB: Thanks, Mary. We look forward to
The Iowa Quilt Museum is located at 68 E. Court Avenue in Winterset, Iowa, and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. (Closed all major holidays.) Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children — and members get in free. Visit www.iowaquiltmuseum.org or call 515.462.5988 to plan your trip. Remember to visit the John Wayne Museum while you’re in town and catch the covered bridges, too!