The Quilt Center and Museum Expansion Opens Up New Opportunities

by Laura Chapman

The International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln is growing. With new programs and exhibitions during 2016. Recently the museum has a new addition doubling the museum’s existing gallery and collections storage space to support the growth making this destination even more desirable.

The museum officially opened its 13,200-square-foot expansion on June 5, 2015 with an open house that attracted more than 500 visitors. The expansion was made possible by a $7 million gift from the Robert and Ardis James Foundation. The Jameses were instrumental in establishing the quilt center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1997 and gave the lead donation to build the museum, which opened in 2008.

“The architects took a holistic approach to the expansion and created a gallery experience that looks, feels and flows as one,” said Leslie Levy, executive director of The International Quilt Study Center and Museum, “We are excited to incorporate this new space in our future growth.”

A Place to Showcase

The addition features a new 5,000 square-foot gallery along with a digital gallery that enables visitors to view high-resolution images of thousands of quilts from the collection.

“Getting to Know You,” the inaugural exhibition in the new space will be on display through Feb. 6 2016, and features 29 quilts that represent the depth and breadth of the collection. The museum’s curators, affiliated scholars, and audience members selected the featured pieces.

Being able to engage audiences and gain input from friends of the museum was an exciting opportunity, according to Marin Hanson, curator of exhibitions.

“We felt it was important when we expanded our museum that we also expand our understanding of the people who visit us virtually and physically to learn about quilts,” she said. “At the same time, this is a chance for people to get to know our collection and our team better.”

In addition to giving the museum more room to showcase its expanding collection, the new gallery also creates new opportunities.

“We can now bring in outstanding exhibitions produced by other institutions and artists,” Hanson said. “We look forward to more collaborative projects with other museums and organizations that feature the best of our research and collections.”

One upcoming collaborative exhibition is “Quilts of Southwestern China,” an international project led by Michigan State University Museum and involving partners from museums across the United States and in China. The traveling exhibition will reveal preliminary research on Chinese patchwork and quilts and feature pieces on loan from Chinese institutions alongside objects from the home museum. Currently, the IQSCM has more than 50 examples of Chinese patchwork and applique quilt covers, some of which will be featured in its version of “Quilts of Southwestern China.”

“It’s exciting, because this will be the first exhibition featuring these textiles, which have been researched little to date,” Hanson said. “It’s a great partnership. We’re grateful for the leadership of the Michigan State University Museum, and to the Robert and Ardis James Foundation, which has sponsored our research and acquisition efforts in China. It’s going to be an eye-opening exhibition.”

Room to Grow the Largest Quilt Collection in the World

The expansion includes an additional state-of-the-art collections storage facility. The climate and temperature controlled room will offer varied storage options to suit the museum’s increasingly diverse collection. In addition to the traditional shelves and flat storage units previously in use, the museum will now have a place for pieces that require rolling or hanging.

As part of the University of Nebraska the museum—and quilts—are owned by the people of Nebraska, which means its team hopes to extend the life of each piece in the collection for generations to come.

“Because our goal is to represent quiltmaking traditions in all countries, as well as contemporary practices, it was imperative to have more storage,” said Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections. “We are the only quilt museum that collects on such a broad basis, and we are trying to truly live up to our international name.”

The increased space comes at an ideal time. The museum has grown from the original 1,000 pieces acquired in 1997 to more than 4,500 quilts and related ephemera. Representing more than four centuries and 25 countries, the museum houses the largest publicly owned collection in the world. The museum also has quilts from nearly all 50 states.

In recent years, the museum has set its sights on developing its international and studio art quilt collections. Recent major international acquisitions come from China, France, India and several countries in Central Asia.

“It’s been a particularly gratifying time to be involved in collecting and preserving quilts as we are discovering international traditions and contemporary artists,” Ducey said. “Ten years ago we were not even aware of many of these practices, so we have really been able to advance our knowledge of quiltmaking traditions and in turn promote the art of quiltmaking. Lincoln has become recognized around the world for its exceptional collection.”

A Bright Future

The IQSCM has an exciting exhibition schedule for 2016. Notable shows include:

Ambiguity & Enigma: Recent Quilts by Michael James through Feb. 23

African American Quilts from the Cargo Collection through May 24

Favorites from the Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection through Aug. 23

Man Made which shows Feb. 16 – June 21

Blue Echoes: Quilts by Shizuko Kuroha on display March 4 – May 25.

Other notable shows scheduled for 2016 will showcase quilts from the museum’s Mountain Mist and Amish collections and pieces by acclaimed UK artist Pauline Burbidge.

The museum also offers a variety of programs and activities, including Quilt Identification Days, behind-the-scenes tours, public lectures, workshops and more. Visit the museum’s website at for more information and to plan your IQSCM experience.  

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