McMinn museum marks 30 years of celebrating quilts

photo Susan Lenz, a Columbia, S.C., fiber artist speaking Saturday at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum, describes how she transfers etchings from tombstones onto recycled fabrics.
Arkansas-North Carolina Live Blog

IF YOU GOWhat: 30th anniversary National Heritage Quilt ShowWhen: Through Sept. 29Where: McMinn County Living History MuseumHours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-FridayCost: $5 adults, $3 seniors and studentsContact: 423-745-09329 or

ATHENS, Tenn. - After establishing one of Southeast Tennessee's first community history museums here 30 years ago, the founders sought a signature event to attract visitors and patrons.

The answer seemed to be a quilt show.

Quilts can be useful, artistic and heirlooms that stitch pieces of families' and regions' histories together, said Lisa Chastain, curator of collections and exhibits for the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum.

On Saturday, Susan Lenz, a fiber artist from Columbia, S.C., and Julie Jack, a Tennessee Wesleyan College art instructor, spoke about art, and especially fabric art, as the museum begins its 30th anniversary National Heritage Quilt Show.

"At the start, they [museum founders] were looking for something that would bring people through the door,'' Chastain said.

It turned out, she said, the founders were in at the beginning of a still-growing resurgence of popularity for quilting.

Lenz noted that quilting was an early form of recycling. Her fabric was once somebody's packing material or somebody's doilies.

"Remember, these were frequently women who couldn't order something from somewhere else or the Internet. They had to use what was on hand,'' she said.

Quilts could be utilitarian, she said, or they could be commemorations of people or events in a family's life.

Lenz often stitches messages taken by crayon rubbings from old cemetery tombstones into her work.

Jack recalled her own art education and finding her expression in fabric art.

Since 1982, the museum's national quilt show has inspired other shows in the region, said Amy Blackburn, executive director.

During the show, a curator with the national Quilt Index will be here to photograph the museum's quilt collection to add to an online directory of thousands of quilts.