I’ve been fortunate to have recently spent a few days in two picturesque towns in Wisconsin. In September, I drove through the Driftless Area in southern Wisconsin and visited Mineral Point and last week a friend and I journeyed to Cedarburg to go to the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Art. First I have to give many thanks to my friend Sandy. She’s always up for a road trip; loves time spent in out of the way nooks and crannies, does her own research about the destination and likes eating at charming, local restaurants. She was a scout mom for years, so she comes prepared! Road snacks, books to read aloud and she is a knitter, of sorts, so she goes along with my yarn shop travel planning methodology.
The purpose of the trip was to view the Navajo Quilt and Rug Exhibit at the Wisconsin Quilt Museum. The idea for the museum was originally seeded in 1988 when a group of quilters in SE Wisconsin founded the Wisconsin Quilt History Project. The mission of the Quilt History Project was to preserve the history and creativity expressed in quilts. The group went on to document the stories behind 8000 quilts and published an award-winning book, Wisconsin Quilts: History in the Stitches (second edition 2009).
In 2001, the group purchased a farm east of Cedarburg. With its seven original stone and timber structures, the Hoffman-Boeker farmstead was an opportunity to preserve historic buildings within the Cedarburg area and to offer plenty of room for future museum expansion. Ten years later, the museum opened its doors with a newly re-furbished barn that acts as gallery and education center. (The restored barn is the top picture in this post).The gallery space is beautiful with the high barn ceiling and aged timber walls. It’s dramatic, but the quilts look very much at home here. An old barn and historic quilts sort of go together like peanut butter and jelly!
When we arrived at the museum, two volunteers greeted us at the door. It was very friendly and inviting. Once oriented, Sandy and I began to view the exhibit. I was happily surprised at the number of Navajo rugs on display. Not only were the rugs large and plentiful, the quilts and other pieces of fiber art sculpture told their own interesting stories as well. Most of the material in this exhibit came from private collections.
I didn’t mention my connection to the Fiber Art Almanac (which is carried in their gift shop) right away, but once the it was made, Sandy and I were treated to a backstage pass that included a preview of the next exhibit, “A Thread Runs Through It.” This was very special because the signature quilt is an 1845 Baltimore Album quilt. It was amazing! The colors are still so vibrant and the appliqué is very detailed and beautifully hand stitched. It was laying flat on a workroom table. We were treated to a 20 minute dissertation about the quilt’s progeny by a Certified Quilt Appraiser. Didn’t even know there was such an occupation! My first thought was, “wow, she’s got a sweet gig!”
She told us a bit about the Baltimore Album quilt style and its ties with Lovely Lane Methodist Church in Baltimore. Baltimore was the second largest city in the growing nation at that time (pre-Civil War) and the quilt reflect its relative prosperity. Many improvements in textile manufacturing and fabric dying provided new colors and fabrics for the quilt blocks. Note that the appliqué pieces on this quilt are made from new fabric not scraps. That is a deviation from the traditional frugality of early Americans who typically made quilts and rugs from worn out clothes.
From the museum we quickly went back to Cedarburg to meet Kay Walters at the Cedarburg Woolen Mill. I regret that I don’t have any pictures of the equipment to show you at this time. The mill produces one-piece wool batts from crib to king size without stretching. The mill also makes fabulous roving as well. Farmers can send their fleece to the mill freshly sheared or already cleaned and carded. The machinery the mill uses was patented in 1860. It is fascinating to watch the machines work. When Kay started them up, I imagined the whole room would be filled with clanking and steam piston sounds so I was surprised at how quietly they ran. No steam, all electric—that was just my imagination.
At lunch in Cedarburg we inquired about the best way to get to Lake Michigan and were given directions to an Ozaukee County Park named Lion’s Den. It was a nice short hike across a boardwalk and then on to a trail that led to the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. I’ve always thought when one travels close to a very large body of water it is important to spend a little time on the beach. When I gaze out into the deep blue, I have a very clear understanding of my smallness.
We stayed in historic downtown Cedarburg at the Washington House Inn. On the main street, it was an easy walk to dinner and several local shops specializing in chocolate! We did stop at a yarn shop in Fond du Lac, WI. It’s called The Knitting Room and I wiped out some wonderful Mirasol yarn on clearance. The chunky Ushya. I bought it all!!