Liz Porter and I were in our mid-twenties (both of us mothers of toddlers) back in 1976 when we met in a beginners quilting class offered through Iowa State University Extension in the small town of Winterset, Iowa. In no time at all, we were team-teaching ourselves—partly because there was local demand, and partly because both of us needed diaper money. We did it together because neither of us felt capable (yet) of teaching on our own. As beginners ourselves, we were barely ahead of our students.
Back then, there were (with a few exceptions) no quilt shops, no quilting books, no quilt shows or conferences, and definitely no museums dedicated to quilts.
When what is now the International Quilt Museum opened in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2008*, I was lucky enough to be present for the ceremony. I remember standing in the gorgeous glass reception area on the second floor of the A.M. Sterns-designed building (37,000 square feet!), blinking back tears. As speakers marked the event, I time-machined myself backward thirty years, to when I was a twenty-five-year-old beginner, and then zoomed forward through the decades of my career, marveling at a journey that has taken me around the world. I still get goosebumps when I think that it happened in my lifetime: a state-of-the-art facility solely dedicated to the collection and preservation of quilts, and part of a world-renowned university!
Liz Porter and I did not set out to be the quilt world icons we somehow became. Back when we were brainstorming class ideas, writing our first books, figuring out how to get a how-to show on public television, we were simply trying to make a living. Lucky for us, we did it by helping other quilters have fun pursuing a pastime they already loved. We instilled trust and offered quality support products—books, kits, fabrics, a magazine—and our customers rewarded us with purchases and loyalty.
Quilts made by Fons, Porter, and Fons & Porter have been displayed in the past at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, at the Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana, at the Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset (a stone’s throw from that original ISU Extension office), and now at “The International” in Lincoln, through February 26, 2022. Favorites made by each of us are on display in the Von Seggern Gallery, with extra items (including the Bernina we used to make many of the step-outs for our landmark QUILTER’S COMPLETE GUIDE) in an adjacent exhibit area.
Every quilter, potential quilter, and quilt lover should visit the International Quilt Museum at least once in their lifetime, and Lincoln is a great little city to spend time in—a college town with plenty of hotels (unless there’s a football game), loads of wonderful restaurants (Lazlo’s is my favorite!), and excellent shopping. Drive, fly, or take the train (AMTRAK stops there), and feast your eyes on our quilts and three other galleries-full!
*From 1997 through 2007, the museum’s collection was stored in a renovated climate-controlled space in the Home Economics Building on UNL’s East Campus.