The induction of Fons & Porter this summer into the Quilters Hall of Fame prompted the Iowa Quilt Museum (IQM) in Winterset, Iowa—the little burg where our brand was born—to mount a retrospective of our work. Almost thirty pieces (all but two of them large) are on view through early January.
Of course I’m biased (!), but honestly, the gallery at IQM has never looked better. While Liz or I occasionally designed a wall quilt or table runner for publication, what we both love to create are quilts with square inches numerous enough to make a design point worthy of our patchwork hours. In Winterset, strong design is evident on every gallery wall; several quilts measure over 100″ on a side.
Back in 1977, I was a twenty-something mother of one toddler (two more, eventually) when I marched into the Iowa State University Extension Office in Winterset on a mission. The American Bicentennial hoopla had included images of quilts, and I wanted to make one. I had been plying my needle in the farmhouse out in the country, embroidering on feed sacks and bluejeans with wimpy cotton thread. The broad design strokes I saw on quilts fired my imagination. Right away, I could see how much better it would be to make something big, and for a bed—instant decor!
Sharon Johnson, Madison County’s ISU Extension home economist back then—now retired and living in Nebraska—traveled to Winterset to speak at our retrospective’s opening in early October. She told of crossing paths not long ago with a quilter while traveling in Australia and mentioning Winterset. “Ooh, Winterset,” the person responded. “Fons & Porter!” Sharon waxed eloquently at our reception on the huge economic Liz and I created in our career. From the basic education we received in a small Midwestern town, we became a worldwide household name. Sharon also revealed it was nonstandard for Extension to offer citizen-generated programming rather than content from ISU down.
Quilters and art lovers, head to Winterset ASAP and feast your eyes on our best quilts, the ones we’ve never parted with, all of them bold and intricate but makable by any quilter able to sew a quarter-inch seam. We’re the gals who put Winterset on the map not for Covered Bridges or John Wayne, but because we fell in love with America’s #1 folk art icon—the patchwork quilt—and ran with it all the way to the top!
Click below to listen to an Iowa Public Radio interview with Iowa Quilt Museum director Megan Barrett.