Big surprises can be found in small towns. For visitors traveling on Texas Highway 71 between Houston and Austin, a side trip to visit the Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange is a must.
Housed in two buildings which date from the early 1890s, these buildings originally housed a furniture store. Over the years, occupants included a J.C. Penney distribution center, as the buildings themselves slowly fell into disrepair. Luckily, the founders of this museum (which has been open since 2011) saw the potential of this historic site. This museum contains three galleries of stunning quilts from around the world, showcasing various themes and designs.
The museum is brightly lit with large windows, original wood flooring as well as brick walls and high ceilings. Architects will be impressed at how well these buildings are restored with an interior that showcases the quilts to their best advantage. Included in the displays are some photos from the original furniture store in 1893 so visitors can see the changes.
Quilt exhibitions are changed quarterly and include both regional and international quilts. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed. During my visit, I was especially moved by a quilter from Australia who had constructed a pattern called “Eager to Learn in Afghanistan”. This design was a quilted replica of a photo of two Afghan schoolgirls, trying to get an education while living in a tent. The pattern was so lifelike that I found myself really moved, thinking about the daily struggles students face in Afghanistan just to go to school.
Designs on display included eight intricate quilts from a British group, the Magna Carta Quilters, who made the quilts as a commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. These quilts were split into four medieval patterns and four more modern legacy patterns. I was amazed to see such intricate detail as even the writing in the proclamations, as well as the details of the coats of arms, could be clearly seen. It was hard for me to imagine how long it must have taken this group to assemble such creative work. This artistry was also replicated on the backs of the quilts as a modern mosaic of the River Thames between the towns of Windsor and Staines, England was mapped in blue and green.
Other designs currently on display include several wildlife quilts (with some for sale—I had a soft spot for an Anchorage-designed polar bear) as well as a variety of other themes. One quilt depicting ballet dancers from the National Cuban Ballet was so intricate that the walls displayed in the quilt even included stitched graffiti about Fidel Castro. I felt as if I was looking at a photo instead of a quilt. Another quilt I loved was based on a Civil War wedding quilt and the traditional layout was colorful and bright.
Benches are well spaced throughout the museum for visitors to sit and enjoy the designs, with classical music in the background. Admission is $8.00 and facilities include a small gift shop as well as a library.
Next door to the museum is a garden, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, which depicts a typical Texas “town garden” during the period 1893-1930. Gardens of this period were multi-purpose as (1) herbs were grown for cooking, (2) herbs could be used for medicines, and, (3) a cutting garden would allow for bouquets. One part of the garden would generally include “pass-along” plants which were plants for the gardener to share with friends and family. Texas women spent a lot of time in their gardens in this period.
The Texas Quilt Museum is open Thursdays through Sundays. Visitors should time when to best visit as during Houston’s International Quilt Festival (generally in late October or early November), busses transport visitors between Houston and La Grange. I was told by one volunteer that during the Festival, the museum may have up to 250 visitors at one time. When I visited in January, the museum was quiet and I had a great time looking at each quilt in detail.
The Texas Quilt Museum is a labor of love, displaying the craftsmanship of champion quilts in a serene setting. For visitors traveling between Houston and Austin, be sure to save some time to see this museum in La Grange. The treasures housed inside are made with pride and care.
Texas Quilt Museum
140 West Colorado
La Grange, Texas 78945