Iowa Quilt Museum gallery

Nonprofit of the Month: Iowa Quilt Museum

A favorite of sewists and visual arts aficionados, the Iowa Quilt Museum, based in Winterset, sets out to promote appreciation of the art of quilting. Here, Carissa Heckathorn, director, discusses the museum’s first-ever Iowa Quilt Festival, a three-day event with nationally known instructors taking place this summer.

What is the mission of the Iowa Quilt Museum? The mission of the Iowa Quilt Museum is to promote appreciation of the American quilt and the art of quilting through displays of quilts and information about quilt history. Since opening, our mission has blossomed! Each year, through our exhibits and programs, we connect visitors and the wider public with the quilts we exhibit and the stories quilts tell.

What prompted the start of the Iowa Quilt Museum? Winterset residents and longtime Madison County boosters Pat and Nancy Corkrean visited the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, WI. Upon return to Iowa, they contacted local quilter Marianne Fons with the idea that Winterset should have its own quilt museum. Accepting the challenge, Marianne recruited an initial board of directors. A local attorney helped with the 501c3 IRS application. Funds were raised, a building on the town square was purchased, and in May 2016, the new museum opened.

What is the greatest reward in being involved with the museum? The Iowa Quilt Museum is well connected, on a national level, to other museums, respected curators, collectors, prize-winning designers and noted quilt historians. Working with them as we plan our exhibits is an amazing experience. In turn, we connect our patrons to this same wide world of quilts and quilting. Because we are a display-only, rather than a collecting museum, our forte is connecting people and quilts and telling the stories of those quilts. Not having to maintain a collection frees us up to do this!

What is the biggest challenge the nonprofit faces? Has the pandemic affected the needs of the museum? We struggle to attract visitors when tourism slows down in Winterset and Madison County during the winter months. Currently, we are offering exhibits and programming attractive to local and Central Iowa folks during this time, and it’s working.

2020 was challenging for everyone. Like many Iowa businesses and institutions, we were closed for 74 days. Our director at the time swiftly (and brilliantly) pivoted our focus to national-scale, online events and we upped our Zoom capacity twice. Our current director continues to create experiences that can be accessed online as well as in person.

What are your goals for 2023? We are extending our reach both within our community and beyond. Our expanded Iowa Quilt Festival (which began in 2018 with a one-day event called The Airing of the Quilts) is on track to become as significant as Madison County’s Covered Bridge Festival, with people attending from all over Iowa, surrounding states and beyond. We are utilizing Iowa instructors and also national-level celebrity quilters. Other events, including Stitch In At The Museum, Gallery Walks and online presentations are set to attract increased interest from our local community and beyond.

How can readers help? Come see us, and tell your friends and family about this incredible museum dedicated to the art of quilting–right in the heart of Iowa! We see visitors from all over the world, many of whom do not quilt, but love the visual arts. Our museum can inspire anyone! Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Does the museum have any events or fundraisers on the horizon? The museum’s annual fundraiser for several years has been the Airing of the Quilts (mentioned above), held on the first Saturday in June. Quilts are displayed all over town and in the surrounding area on a single day, including inside four historic covered bridges. Last year, we expanded the event by adding three days of quilting activities in the run up to the official Airing. A retreat in the Winterset Livery (a restored historic building) attracted sewists from several states, and quilting classes with noteworthy national teachers took place in other locations. On Saturday’s Airing, quilts were hung between lampposts on two sides of the square, draped on vintage autos, and displayed in merchant windows and on porches of private homes, as well as in four bridges. You haven’t really experienced Madison County’s famed covered bridges until you’ve seen quilts hanging against their 19th-century timbers.

This year is the inaugural year for the Iowa Quilt Festival, May 31 to June 3, 2023. In addition to the three-day retreat in the historic Winterset Livery, we will have several nationally known instructors teaching May 31 to June 2: Diane Murtha, Patty Fried and more. Headlining the event is Ricky Tims, nationally known Colorado musician, artist and quilter, presenting his two-day “Quilt Luminarium” from the stage of the restored Iowa Theater on the town square.

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