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Constance Alexander: City’s Quilt shows a testament to Paducah’s planning and community cooperation

As a person who failed Home Economics in high school, I have hesitated to attend the quilt show in Paducah for years. But when my niece drove all the way from Montana to attend the springtime extravaganza, I realized I needed to get over my feelings of inadequacy regarding needlework. It was time for me to see the show.

What I expected and what I experienced are two very different things.

The day I attended, we left home plenty early to leave time for parking and getting settled. Upon arriving at the Schroeder Expo Center, however, there was clearly no reason to fret. Buses, cars, campers and pick-ups were neatly dispatched with the help of scores of volunteers who directed traffic, answered questions, and handed out smiles that added sunshine to the day.

We got inside at 8:50 where, like a massive inter-generational sorority reunion, the lobby was thronged with women. Since the doors to the display area did not open until 9, we waited patiently until an anonymous male voice rang out.

“If you’re happy and you know it, say Paducah!”

Laughing and clapping, the crowd roared back, “Paducah!” and the doors opened.

Once inside, I sought out the greeter, Brint Fanizza, one of the vendors with work on display. Also known as “The Scissor Man,” Brint is president and director of Specialty Product Sales, Inc., and co-founder of Famore Cutlery, manufacturer of scissors and tweezers for the needle arts.

Asked about his call-and-response routine, Brint explained that he has been exhibiting his wares at the quilt show for twenty years, and he liked the idea of making visitors welcome. He went on to say that Bill Schroeder, co-founder of the American Quilter’s Society in 1984, used to greet the quilters. Since Bill’s death in 2017, Brint has added his own spin to the routine.

“I want to make them feel welcome,” he says. “It’s all about the experience, and if you don’t have an experience here, you’re in trouble.”

Scissor Man was right. The range of experiences at the quilt show was stunning, so filled with energy and imagination that taking notes and taking in the marvels of the displays at the same time became impossible.

At first, I tried to focus on the various quilt titles. Some were fanciful and creative, while others were strictly no frills. “Seasons of Life” and “Fashion in Art Deco” were two of the more straightforward monikers, while “Enchantment” and “Kazenobon” appealed to the imagination.

Next, I tried to note where the various quilters were from. Missouri, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, New York, and California were some of the representatives from the U.S. Japan, Brazil, and Turkey were some of the international entries, but in the end, there were too many to write down.

I also failed at noting descriptions of specific quilts. There was such a mixture of energy and precision, juxtaposed against explosions of color and glitter, the impact was breathtaking. Truly, you had to be there to experience the phantasm created by the marriage of fabric and thread.

As impressive as the show itself are the civic pride, comprehensive planning, and community cooperation that make it possible for Paducah to host not one, but two quilt shows a year. With the arts and culture at its core, the show has provided at least $ 551-million to the community in 35 years. In addition, related businesses have sprung up as a result.

While I might have failed Home Ec. because I never made that ugly straight skirt with the kick-pleat in the back, I did not fail strategic planning or economic development. What a good example Paducah sets for the region, drawing thousands of guests every year for events that are an integral part of the cultural life of the community. By partnering the arts and commerce, Paducah sets itself apart and prospers.

The rest of the region should be inspired. I know I am.

For an article from Americans for the Arts, visit blog.americansforthearts.org.

For details about Paducah’s Fall quilt show, go to www.quiltweek.com.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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