In 1997, quilter and La Conner resident Rita Hupy founded the La Conner Quilt Musem on the second floor of the historic Gaches Mansion. Rita was just one of a growing community of quilters who were seeking a space in which to display the the works of local, national, and internation quilters. Rita soon formed a Board of Directors for the new museum, and with growing admissions funds they began paying rent to the Town of La Conner for use of the Mansion. The Museum also gained non-profit status in 1997.
The very first exhibit at the young museum was a display of antique quilts from the collection of Ann Bodle Nash, an appraiser and avid collector. Miwako Kimura of Japan guest-curated the first international exhibit at the museum less than one year after it opened. Kimura, who was director of the Hatsunagi-Kai Quilt Club of Tokyo, helped acquire Japanese quilts for the exhibit titled “Japanese Folk Textile Quilts” in summer of 1998. Other exhibits during the first year included “Beautiful British Columbia,” which featured works from the Vancouver B.C. Quilters Guild, and a display of works from members of the Applique Society.
By early 2005, the Museum had hosted over 64 exhibits of work from regional, national and internationally-known quilters and fiber artists. Two big decisions were made that year–one was to expand the mission (and title) of the museum to include “textiles,” and the other was to purchase the deteriorating Gaches Mansion from the Town of La Conner. The Board of Directors secured a private loan for the purchase, and began paying the mortgage in late 2005.
With ownership of the Gaches Mansion came the serious maintenance responsibilities of a 114-year old building. Faced with a restoration that would cost nearly half a million dollars, the museum wrote and won a 3:1 Heritage Capital Funds Project (HCFP) matching grant from the Washinton State Historical Society for $122,500. Some of the work performed under this grant included critical structural work in the museum’s basement, additional supports, drainage work, and the installation of a handicapped lift to bring visitors to the first floor. While the Museum used equity in the mansion for the majority of the cash match, it also succeeded in raising an impressive $73,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
By 2008, the Museum was staying open 5-7 days a week and employed a full-time director, a curator/collections manager, an administrative assistant, and a weekend staff person. Work performed under the HCPF grant was finished in June of 2009, but the museum still faced over $300,000 worth of restoration work to improve the Mansion and expand storage space to accomodate a growing permanent collection of quilts and textile works.
In December 2009, the Museum paid the mortgage loan in full and began moving forward with a renewed Capital Campaign to restore the Mansion. After many years of fundraising, and with the help of an $80,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the exterior restoration was finished in October 2012.
Future plans include a $75,000 interior restoration, which will be funded in part by a 2:1 $25,000 Washington State Heritage Capital Projects Fund grant. This interior work will include installation of period-appropriate drapes and wallpaper, refinishing of the original Douglas Fir flooring, and a fire-sprinkling system throughout the building.