The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts.

Sometimes the oddness of an attraction, or simply its title, is enough to lure a tourist. I came across one of those eyebrow raising places this past Thursday. The name, the ‘Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts’, gathered my attention because it was simply unique. I’m not into quilts, nor do I plan on making one, but sometimes items one considers mundane and boring have interesting tales, making for delicious brain fodder.

Besides that, I like writing about ‘out of the box’ type places. I think they make for better reads. They may not always be big draws like sporting events or amusement parks, yet the quirky always allows for humor and creativity. However, I always keep in mind that I’m to give an account of my find and sprinkle in some objective opinions now and then.

So, I decide to drive to rural Cedarburg, Wisconsin to see if this place holds golden nuggets of knowledge. On my drive from Green Bay, Which mainly occurs on an Interstate, I try to imagine the place. Before starting on this trek, I had read that the exhibits are housed inside a barn. With that, I’m picturing farmer Fran and his wife collecting money in the drive, with the family’s bedding nailed to the walls of a dilapidated building.

Once off the highway, I’m riding on rural roads through the lush green of May. As I follow my GPS, I’m kind of surprised to find that this place is really out of the way. If you’re from another state and up for some Wisconsin countryside, you’ll like this drive.

When I arrive, I’m slightly surprised to see an attractive parking lot accompanied by a stylish sign proclaiming the Museum. It rests on a berm and I follow a small staircase into a very modern hall and gift shop. It’s been a long drive so I use their spotless restrooms. I have to say I’m impressed with the aesthetics of this area, and it does get better.

But before I get to that, I have a talk with one of the Museum’s Founders. I learn that the Museum opened in 2011, spurred by the discoveries they made while documenting quilts. (Documenting is the investigation into how the quilt was made along with the materials used).

One of her stories strikes a strong chord with me. The story points out that at one time, quilts were a thing of necessity and not something someone made for décor. “I discovered a quilt that was made by a lady from the Southern US. They had moved here later in life. Her husband, while working the fields of Dixie would just burn up in the sun, so he used long denim shirts to protect his skin. When they became unusable, instead of throwing them away she had saved them to make a quilt. You could easily tell this quilt was made in the South because the filling was real cotton, hand picked from the field.”

I also learn that the Museum plays home to temporary Exhibits all revolving around quilts and the fiber arts. This particular time, the Exhibit features quilts made with Tobacco Silks. I’m in for more education, “Tobacco Silks were inserts inside cigarette packs and cigar boxes, they were used around the turn of the century. The tobacco companies’ intention was to create a market for women, being that the silks were decorated with flowers, actresses of the silver screen or something elegant and alluring.” She informs me.

A quilt featuring a silk with an actress printed on it

I pay my eight dollars and am on my way. The first thing that strikes me about the exhibit room is not the exhibit. It’s the fashionably restored 1870’s homestead barn that is the showcase’s shelter. While the walls and floor may not be original, the beams and ladders are. I feel like I’m in the barn of my childhood, which my parents now use for storage, except a more appealing version.

A look at this very cool barn

Along with that are the quilts created by Greta Mikkelsen. The most intriguing parts, I guess, are the silks themselves. The quilts are more or less a vessel in which they are featured. I see attractive female faces, butterflies, Presidents of the United States and more. There’s even silks with football (soccer) players, with the cities of the teams printed below. I believe baseball cards came from the same marketing philosophy.

Silks featuring footballers

The Idea of creating a quilt museum, the building used, even the exhibits are captivating and reason for pause. I mean I get it, how often do you find that ratty old quilt great grandma used to cherish in the barn. Sorry Great Grandma, I know quilts are something to cherish. Actually, I don’t know why I’m apologizing, my Great Grandmother crotched afghans, Christmas ornaments and socks but I’m sure she had a quilt. Anyhow, the Idea is fantastic and novel.

However, there’s not a lot in this cool building. The exhibits take about twenty minutes to examine, if you’re totally engaged with what’s on display. I believe it would be hard to find an extensive exhibit on quilts and make it interesting. I do applaud the effort and hope it appeals to those that appreciate the top layer of pioneer bedding. As novel as it is, there’s just not a lot of content.

Safe Travels!

Author: Chris Karas

I am a 44 year old man living in Green Bay, Go Pack!! I love History, give me the origins of almost anything noteworthy and I'm all ears. I also love outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and camping. However, I don't mind a few days in fresh, bustling cities with interesting historic attractions.

6 thoughts

  1. So cool!! I am a quilter and I make quilts with civil war era reproduced fabric so I loved hearing about the southern quilt. This sounds like a perfect place for me to check out someday! Even though I love quilts, to be honest though…I really want to see that barn!!!

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  2. An interesting exhibition, Chris. Very creative. And the barn itself is quite impressive. I tried quilting once but couldn’t really get into it. Still, I enjoy seeing other people’s creations and can appreciate the hard work that goes into them. And they make colorful images too, as your first picture shows.

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  3. I am interested in quilts and fiber arts so I will have to check this out. As to your comment about “not finding an extensive exhibit on quilts and making it interesting”, about 5 years ago the Milwaukee Art Museum featured the Gess Bend Quilters. Fascinating history and fabulous quilts. Too bad you couldn’t have seen that, it might have changed your opinion. http://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers

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    1. Thanks for the info. I do enjoy the Milwaukee Art Museum, so I may have enjoyed that. I just felt the exhibit, despite tobacco silks’ backstory and the interesting artwork, would have been redundant if there was more.

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