Would it be a stretch to liken Paducah's Meredith Schroeder to the Beatles?
We don't think so. There was music before the fab four, yet they took it to realms never imagined. Likewise, quilts have been around for thousands of years. Yet it was Meredith Schroeder who helped raise them from functionality to a major force in the arts. That's why she is 2013's Quilt Hall of Fame inductee. Yeah, she's a rock star in textile arts.
The first pieces of the story started with Meredith and Bill Schroeder’s business, Collector Books. "We created some publications on collecting quilts," recalls Meredith, "and we took them to quilt shows." While at a show in Bellbuckle, TN, she was struck with an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the artistry poured into each work. She was also underwhelmed at how the quilts were presented and how the artists were rewarded for their work.
"There were no monetary prizes, and the most recognition anyone received was a ribbon. I knew these artists deserved more than that." Meredith founded the American Quilter's Society in 1984, and introduced the world to a new way of looking at quilts at a show in Paducah. Quilts were presented the same way any work of art would be in a museum. The addition of prize money ($10,000 to Best of Show) added immediate value to the works on display.
"We really didn't know what to expect," says Meredith. "We had close to 5,000 people attend that year. We were starting to accomplish our mission." The AQS published its first magazine in 1985, The American Quilter. And from the beginning, the idea of a quilt museum was in place.
The AQS implemented a system by which the best quilts in the world would eventually be on display in Paducah. With the prize money, the top three from the shows had the option of displaying their works in the museum. The collection grew, and in 1991, Meredith and her husband Bill established the Museum of the American Quilter's Society. They also took the show on the road, hosting shows in other cities. But Paducah remained at the epicenter of the quilting world.
Quilt City USA is now Paducah's alternate name thanks to the efforts of the Schroeders, and the annual show continues to grow. "I've heard many people say that getting to Paducah is on their bucket list," says Meredith. The annual AQS show is the World Series, the Super Bowl, the World Cup of quilting arts. Nearly 40,000 artists descend on Paducah during Quilt Week each April, most traveling from all over the United States, and some traveling from every continent in the world.
Meredith, along with a team of industry leaders, also developed the first guidelines for appraising quilts. Quilts had traditionally been valued based only on the final total of the materials used, with a neglect for the artistry. The guidelines became quilt industry standards and to become AQS Appraisal Certified is the goal of serious quilt artists.
Schroeder Publishing also added a strong line-up of over 550 quilt-related books focusing on education, inspiration, and even fictional topics. The American Quilter magazine grew to over 80,000 subscribers, and in 2010, a second magazine, The Quilt Life was launched.
In 2008, the United States Government took notice of the Quilt Museum by allowing an officially sanctioned name change to The National Quilt Museum of the United States. The Act was approved by both the House and Senate and signed into law by George W. Bush on May 8, 2008.
It is no wonder the Quilter's Hall of Fame notices Meredith's efforts. She will be officially honored and inducted in July in Marion, Indiana at their annual celebration. Bonnie Browning and Andi Reynolds of the Hall of Fame summed up the nomination by stating, "Quilt history would be short a significant chapter without Meredith Schroeder's mention, notice, and honor."
Meredith is no doubt a worldwide ambassador for quilting arts. In 2014, AQS shows will be held in Lancaster, Paducah, Grand Rapids, Des Moines, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Chattanooga. "It's what we wanted," she laughs as she recalls trips to places like Istanbul and Japan. "We wanted people to appreciate the art of quilting." And because of Meredith's efforts, the world is taking notice.