Visit to the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum

The La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum is a regional gem and should not be missed if you are in the vicinity (northwest corner of Washington State). Apart from the outstanding quilt and textile exhibits which I’ll get to later, the building itself is spectacular and has an interesting history.

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The museum is housed in the Gaches Mansion. The British Gaches brothers, James and George, had a successful mercantile business in La Conner. They purchased the land in 1875 for $125 and built two homes. The Tudor-style Victorian mansion (known as the Gaches Castle) was completed in 1891. The mansion featured over 20 rooms with two staircases (one for the servants). There were three floors, a basement, an attic and a “widows walk”. Louisa Wiggins Gaches (George’s wife) decorated her grand home with furnishings from all over the world. The Gaches eventually moved to Seattle and in 1905 sold the building to Dr. Howe who set up Skagit County’s first hospital there. Next the property belonged to a grocer and then to a lady who converted it into apartments and removed the grand staircase.

In 1973, there was a devastating fire after a tenant left a cigarette burning. The third floor and attic were destroyed and in the absence of a roof there was significant water damage over the winter. Volunteers from the La Conner Landmark group succeeded in getting the mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places and were awarded a matching grant for critical repairs and restoration. The museum was used as an art gallery and then it was sold to the Town of La Conner.

In 1997, La Conner resident Rita Hupy founded the La Conner Quilt Museum and rented the space from the Town of La Conner. By 2005 they had hosted over 64 exhibits and become renowned nationally. The Board of Directors secured a private loan to purchase the Gaches Mansion. Since then, major renovations have taken place, both inside and outside, funded by a variety of grants, donations and fundraising events. They recently completed redecorating the downstairs to restore it to its Victorian splendor with woodblock printed wallpaper borders in authentic Victorian designs made by a specialist in California, drapes and new flooring. This is the dining room. On the table is a quilt from 1915 made from tobacco flannel panels.

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The Museum now has a sizeable permanent collection including this lovely 1930’s cubes quilt hand-pieced from hexagons. Rotating exhibits on the ground floor usually feature pieces from this collection or award winners from the annual QuiltFest. This exquisite quilt, Ladies of the Sea, 85½” x 85½”, took Joanne Ellsworth three years to make. It is hand appliquéd and hand quilted and based on patterns by Susan Garman.

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Here are two more quilts on the ground floor that captivated me. Rumple About, 57” x 64”, was made by Ingrid Willhoft. Techniques include machine piecing, hand appliqué, machine quilting and hand Sachiko. Tulips Forever, 39” x 45”, by Linda Fogg is a spring time Skagit Valley scene. In the La Conner area, the fields are bursting with colorful blooms of a huge variety of tulips. The quilt is made with raw-edge appliqué and utilizes a variety of materials including cottons, Ikat organza, tulle netting and twill ribbon.

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Visiting exhibits, both contemporary and traditional, from nationally and internationally known fiber artists are displayed on the top two floors. Photography on these floors is not permitted. The stair wells are appropriate for small quilts, such as the 22”-26” 2013 Blooms Challenge Quilts which were there when I visited in May. Typically, exhibits change every three months, so there is always new material to see every time I go there. The quilts I saw in May will be hanging for another week before the opening of the next exhibit on 26th June. On the top floor was At Home in High Places, by Karen Frazen from Alaska. Karen was inspired after assisting with ornithological research on Golden Eagles in Denali National Park. She uses a variety of techniques in her work including combinations of appliqué and piecing, and fabric painting on layers of sheer fabrics to produce stunning images of cranes, grouse, eagles, ravens and song birds. On the second floor which also houses the museum store, there were beautiful antique quilts in an exhibit on loan, Historic Quilts from the Latimer Quilt & Textile Museum, Tillamook, OR.

I always enjoy visiting the museum and feel inspired when I leave. There is such an abundance of talent, and in the realm of quilting this can be expressed in so many different and exciting ways.


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