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Winterset, Iowa

Dear Friends,

My 95-year-old Dad’s new Ford Taurus got 32 miles per gallon on our day trip to Winterset, Iowa last week. He was especially happy with that as now all his driving is confined to grocery store runs, doctor appointments, church and taking Janet to the hairdresser. No complaints from him at all; you gotta love a guy who, at 95, thinks he has a few more road trips in his life.

Our trip was a return to Winterset for him. Sixty-seven years ago he and my mom, new grads from Iowa State and married just a couple of years, moved to the small southern Iowa town for my dad’s teaching position. Besides taking Dad on a ride along, the day was my opportunity to see the Iowa Quilt Museum, stroll around the famed town square and dive into the local yarn shop.

The day was hot and sunny. For this Iowa turned Minnesota gal, summer heat in Iowa is like adding a dash of Sriracha sauce to the thermometer. I loved it. Southern Iowa countryside is hilly and green with vistas and creeks and small rivers running everywhere. It’s loveliness and charm makes one wonder why the whole world isn’t like this.

Winterset is in Madison County, west and south of Des Moines, far enough to be its own place but close enough to easily make the big Target run in West Des Moines. John Wayne was born here and Bridges of Madison County was filmed here. The local chamber has done a great job in amplifying that and if the hanging petunia baskets are any indication of a lively downtown atmosphere, Winterset rocks it.

Iowa Quilt Museum

Being veteran road trippers, we took a turn around the square and settled on a drive-in style diagonal parking spot on the south side of the courthouse. Perfect light for angle shots of the Renaissance Revival Madison County courthouse dome against the blue sky. We were steps away from the Quilt Museum, too. After fifteen minutes of courthouse snapshots with both camera and phone, we head into the museum where Dad starts up a conversation with staff behind the counter. He mentions that he lived there many years ago when he was a teacher and then launches into a story about the Superintendent and high school Principal at the time. It’s a funny story about fishing but it also brings out Dad’s admiration for the two people who have a prominent place in his memory of his time here.

As it turns out, the woman behind the counter is Megan Barrett, Executive Director of the IQM and until recently an elementary music teacher in Winterset. She told Dad she has heard of the years-ago Superintendent and Principal. I’m not sure if she really has heard of these men whose lives were a part of 1950’s history, nonetheless it was very gracious of her. This type of connection is just so typical of Dad.

The Iowa Quilt Museum building is an old shot gun style store front on the south side of the square. JC Penney’s name is tiled into the entrance alcove with two display windows flanking both sides. Built in 1870s, the building has housed a variety of retail from dry goods, to hardware store and JC Penney from 1931 to 1997. True to old style store space, the ceilings are high and the mezzanine provides a palace style view to the main floor. I can easily visualize olden days’ store managers in their perch viewing counters, displays, store traffic (and idle employees?). I wonder if the stores ever had pneumatic tubes!

Fast forward to 2017 and in its place, is a brightly lit, carefully restored, up to date exhibit space. The main area uses partition walls for movability and while the high, stamped tin ceiling is painted a neutral cream color that reflects light, the height of the exhibit partitions is scaled to people height.  The space is more long than wide, so there’s not much room to back up for perspective.  The sweeping staircase leading up the mezzanine shows off the grandeur of its oak woodwork. Up top there is more intimate space for music and smaller exhibits.

 

Quilts of Valor’ is on exhibit through July 9, 2017. Its red, white and blue theme are in sync with upcoming Independence Day and the quilt patterns range from traditional blocks to more abstract composition. The uniformity of quilt size in this exhibit is unique to Quilts of Valor quilts which have minimum and maximum size requirements. The ideal asks for the quilt to cover an average-sized adult with finished quilt sized about 60” X 80”.

The exhibit also included a case of World War I & II artifacts. Bomb plugs as used on the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A surrender card written in both Japanese and American. But I found a most curious, unexpected connection to my Dad when I saw a picture of a WWII soldier, a 23-year-old man, who fought in Germany and was killed in action. His funeral bulletin included a picture of his handsome face and my thoughts flickered to war and how it trenches our youth when I noticed the date of his funeral. That date and time is the same date and time that my Dad, who was standing next to me, married my mother in August 1948. One young man served his country and gave his life. Another young man, having served his country, was about to begin a new life with the love of his life. It was a poignant moment of contrast. Sixty-seven years have passed since Dad was last in Winterset yet life is filled with long loops that connect and cross.

This quilt exhibit is about remembrance and recognition that what America asks of some may take everything. We have a considerable debt to their obligation of service. These beautiful, colorful quilts are a positive, helpful way to say, “We care about you and your sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Northside Cafe

Stomachs rumbling, we asked about a place for lunch. Suggestions were made and we headed out the door across the square to the 140-year old Northside Café, which sits on the opposite side of the square from the museum and I was told the 4th stool on the left was Clint Eastwood’s perch during Bridges of Madison County filming. Yes, Northside is as old as Winterset itself, being housed in one of the first buildings built on the square. Lucky for us, a tour group was just paying up when we arrived. Of course, our first inquiry was about homemade pie. The hostess said they were out, but not one to leave pies unturned, I asked the server and she said four pieces of apple pie remained. I asked her to set one aside for the two of us.

Northside’s setting felt urban in color, décor and young, tattooed servers. In 2016, they opened a craft brewery, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Prohibition. Later Dad confided that while lunch was good, the serving of pie was skimpy! After I told him we shared a piece (which was huge), he shamed me with a look that said, “if you’re going to live to 95, you get the whole piece!” At least I didn’t get the eat dessert first lecture.

Around the Courthouse Square

Our last stop on the Winterset square was Heartland Fiber Company. Each year, Amy puts on Heartland Fiberpalooza in the early spring month of March with a marketplace and classes. As soon as we entered the shop, Dad was offered a chair—he could sit in the lower chair with no yarn on it or if he wanted a slightly higher chair the big pile of yarn would have to be moved. I asked about local dyers and Amy and crew came up with two interesting options. I bought them both.

A Whimsical Wood Yarn Company is hand dyed by a gal who lives in rural Iowa. She has an unconventional, sassy method for naming her yarn collections. The colorway I picked is so outside my typical purchase that I thought it was made for me. It’s from the ‘You’re Such an Ass’ Collection. Its name is ‘Scary Ass’. The second hank of yarn minimizes color pooling and is hand dyed by Leading Men Fiber Arts from Chicago. The DK weight hank is ‘Poison Ivy’.

Pie, yarn, quilt museum, and a walk around the square—all the boxed had been ticked so it was time to head back to Cedar Rapids. One notable absence to our day trip was a tour of the actual covered bridges out in Madison County. In 1973 my Dad and I took a quick side trip while my Mom was attending a teacher’s conference in Des Moines. It was a grand day out for Dad and daughter. Notice the pink culottes and knee highs. I was 15.

Enjoy the summer!

–Jenny

p.s. By the way, the young cat in the picture is Apache Star Midnight Wilder. Henry for short. He’s a new family member who likes to sit by brightly colored yarn that sets off his black fur and he loves to play chase with our dog, Meka.

Here are some links to places visited and resources to plan your own Winterset trip.

Iowa Quilt Museum

Heartland Fiber Co.

Northside Café

Covered Bridge Festival 2017

Madison County Chamber of Commerce

A Whimsical Wood Yarn Company – Luscious Hand Dyed Fiber with a Snarky Twist

Leading Men Fiber Arts

Iowa Backroads

Map to Iowa Quilt Museum

Iowa Quilt Museum

Links to plan a fun visit!

Here are some links to places visited and resources to plan your own Winterset trip.

Iowa Quilt Museum

Heartland Fiber Co.

Northside Café

Covered Bridge Festival 2017

Madison County Chamber of Commerce

A Whimsical Wood Yarn Company – Luscious Hand Dyed Fiber with a Snarky Twist

Leading Men Fiber Arts

Iowa Backroads

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