Quilt ambassador makes sure it plays in Paducah

Standing inside the National Quilt Museum are its founders Bill and Meredith Schroeder of Paducah, Ky. She also is 
co-founder and president of the American Quilter’s Society, with headquarters in Paducah, and in July will be inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame. A miniature quilt exhibit is shown behind the couple.

The National Quilt Museum boasts 27,000 square feet in historic downtown Paducah, Ky. Its three galleries feature exhibits of the finest quilt and fiber art in the world. The museum’s exhibits are rotated 10 to 12 times a year. For information, go to quiltmuseum.org.

Loyse Hinkle/Special to the Sentinel: A prize-winning quilt titled “Feathers in the Wind” by Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry graces the cover of the 2013 American Quilter’s Society calendar. The calendar is one of many annual quilt-related items and books published by Meredith Schroeder’s company. Go to americanquilter.com for details. Fallert-Gentry lives and works in her Bryerpatch Studio in Paducah’s Lower Town Arts District.

The story of Meredith Schroeder and her connection to quilts is a real page-turner.

From a publishing company she and her husband, Bill, started in 1974 was born the now-famous American Quilter’s Society in what is known as Quilt Town USA in Paducah, Ky.

Each spring, this charming community established along the scenic Ohio River opens every door to a juried and judged quilt contest that offers $20,000 to the top prize winner and draws attendees by the tens of thousands from around the world.

As co-founder and president of the American Quilter’s Society in 1984, Schroeder has built a veritable empire in the quilting industry. What once was referred to as “women’s work” is now recognized and appreciated as a fine art form.

For her outstanding contributions to this goal, she is being honored as the 2013 inductee into the Quilters Hall of Fame. Formal ceremonies are planned July 18-20 in Marion, Ind.

I asked Schroeder last week in a phone interview what the greatest change has been since she launched the Paducah show almost three decades ago.

Her answer came without hesitation: the prevalence of machine-quilting over hand-quilting.

“And now you can even design a quilt on a computer,” she says.

Marveling at the advanced technology of today’s sewing machines, especially the large longarm varieties, Schroeder also mentions how the type and look of fabric has changed in recent years.

Although not an active quilter herself (she made one quilt many years ago, she says), Schroeder devotes herself as an accomplished businesswoman to the art form.

The venture started because the Schroeders enjoyed collectibles, such as Depression-era glass and other vintage artifacts, including quilts. They amassed an enviable collection of the latter, donating it in 1990 as the basis for what now is the National Quilt Museum in Paducah.

The state-of-the-art facility preserves quilts as art, acquires prize-winning quilts annually and honors quilters by displaying their work as art.

When she first began collecting quilts, Schroeder says she looked for pleasing color and techniques, and paid close attention to how well they were made.

Her contests continue to emphasize quality workmanship as she has added three more annual shows — in the cities of Lancaster, Pa., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Des Moines, Iowa.

When Schroeder Publishing first started, Meredith and Bill specialized in books about various types of collectibles, then an encyclopedia about collecting quilts.

Soon they met quilters who were writing about their designs and methods, and the couple began publishing how-to books.

Now, they produce 20 books a year and publish two magazines, American Quilter and The Quilt Life. The newest, The Quilt Life, started in 2009 and features celebrity quilters Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson.

“It’s doing very well in its third year,” Meredith Schroeder says, adding that the American Quilter’s Society still is growing, and there are plans to add more shows.

Next up is the 2013 QuiltWeek Paducah, scheduled April 24-27, and the entire city will be covered in quilts. That includes exhibits at the mall, through the local Rotary Club and downtown stores.

“If there’s an empty building somewhere, we’ll put quilts in it,” Schroeder says with a laugh. But she’s not really joking.

Her commitment to Paducah is evident in her service past and present: board member of Paducah Bank & Trust Co., state historical museum and center for the performing arts; a steering committee member of the Paducah Riverfront Development; and a Paul Harris fellow award through Rotary.

On the Quilters Hall of Fame website, quiltershalloffame.net, those who nominated Schroeder described her as a role model in her professional, civic and personal life, in such terms as “modest, loyal, dedicated and tirelessly committed to her work.”

Quilt artist Libby Lehman adds, “Meredith doesn’t just lend her name to projects, she rolls up her sleeves and gets to work. She knows how to run a board meeting and how to nail up a board when needed.”

In tribute to her vision of promoting today’s quilters on a national and international scale, two American Quilter’s Society collegeaues, Bonnie Browning and Andi Reynolds, summed up their nomination of her this way:

“Quilt history would be short a significant chapter without Meredith Schroeder’s mention, notice and honor.”

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Correction: The photo of “The Purple Tree” accompanying April 7’s Art of Quilting column was taken by Steve Traudt.


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