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Paducah, Kentucky: Art like a river

Courtesy Paducah CVB

A conversation with Rosemarie Steele, marketing director, Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau

What is distinctive about Paducah?
Although Paducah is not a metropolis by any standard, don’t let that “small town” stigma fool you. With a thriving arts district, a wide variety of cultural pursuits, rich history, urban cuisine and eclectic accommodations, Paducah offers an array of experiences.

Paducah flows with creativity, from amazing textiles on display at the National Quilt Museum of the United States to the restored homes in the historic neighborhood that is now the LowerTown Arts District, from the transformation of the city’s floodwall with life-sized “Portraits of Paducah’s Past.”

What are the main group attractions in Paducah?
The National Quilt Museum is Paducah’s anchor attraction.

The museum’s Founders Collection quilts have become an ever-developing documentation of the quiltmaking revival that began in the 1980s. A recent addition to the museum’s exhibits is the Oh WOW! Miniature Collection. The first reaction people have when they see these tiny wonders is “Oh! Wow!”

The River Discovery Center, a Save America’s Treasures project, is housed in downtown’s oldest standing structure, dating to the early 1840s. The walls are decked with colorful murals and maps that visually tell the story of the Four Rivers Region while the chants of river workers whose songs and lyrics give cadence to the movement of their labor fill the air. In addition to the center’s interactive, water-filled exhibits, a new pilothouse simulator allows visitors to stand at the helm of a towboat or a pleasure watercraft and feel the movement of steering through unexpected obstacles and challenging weather situations as they navigate the river.

One of the most interesting things about Paducah is what native son, author, humorist and columnist Irvin S. Cobb called its “colorful characters.” On any given day, groups may find themselves following a costumed re-enactor from Paducah’s antebellum past, listening as their tour guide tells tales and brings the history at the William Clark Market House Museum or Lloyd Tilghman House Civil War Museum to life.

What are major events in Paducah?
After winter’s long repose, the Dogwood Trail Celebration is held when the buds begin to bloom in April. This 12-and-a-half-mile driving trail through the historic downtown, the LowerTown Arts District and the residential neighborhoods showcases the beauty of Western Kentucky in the springtime.

During the last full weekend in April, Paducah is a mecca for quilting enthusiasts. Thousands of quilters from around the country and several foreign countries make their annual trek for the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Show and Contest, which showcases more than 450 hand- and machine-crafted quilts. The show’s Merchant Mall offers everything from fabric and embellishment to quilting machines.

The LowerTown Art and Music Festival, held in the heart of the arts district in late May, features regional artists, open studios and galleries, live music on an outdoor stage and ongoing theater from the balconies of Italianate and Greek-revival houses.

The Ohio River and the historic downtown are the setting for Barbecue on the River — three days of barbecue bliss in late September with Old Market Days, outdoor concerts, arts and crafts, and hog-calling and chicken-clucking contests.

Christmas in Paducah features a holiday parade, the Noble Park light display, holiday concerts, theater productions and shopping within the ambiance of a river town.

What’s new in Paducah?
Although the National Quilt Museum has offered quilting workshops for many years, the pockets of artist enclaves, like the LowerTown Arts District, now provide endless possibilities for hands-on workshops. Arrange for your group to experience paper marbling, clay ceramics, embroidery or printmaking. The culinary arts department of West Kentucky Community and Technical College will dish up a customized event or demonstration in its charming bistro.

New on the Paducah scene is Purple Toad Winery, which offers dry, semisweet and fruity award-winning wines.

Where are some great places to get a taste of Paducah?
When it comes to dining, you’ll find a number of group-friendly restaurants, from familiar chains to casual, locally owned establishments with one-of-a-kind fare. Whaler’s Catch is a local treasure located across the street from the National Quilt Museum. Its Catch Crew provides fine dining in a casual New Orleans ambiance, and its French Quarter banquet facility is perfect for groups.

For something different, let influential quiltmaker Caryl Bryer Fallert dazzle your group with a demonstration at Bryerpatch Studio, her LowerTown workshop/studio/gallery, while they enjoy a catered or box lunch from Artisan Kitchen.

What is one souvenir everyone should bring back from Paducah?
A one-of-a-kind, handcrafted objet d’art is the best memento of Paducah. Items can be as small as a marbled bookmark from Working Artist Studio, exquisite earrings of semiprecious stones from Aphrodite Gallery, a miniature painting of a Paducah scene from Papa Gallery or a handmade accessory from Dixie Leatherworks.

Are there any special programs and services for groups in Paducah?
The red-coated Paducah Ambassadors serve as step-on guides, but the most unforgettable experience would be a tour and serenade by Paducah’s own Quilt Man, whose identity must forever remain a secret — although he bears a strong resemblance to CVB sales director Fowler Black.

What is your website address, and what on the site would be particularly helpful to a bank travel planner?

The site features a category for groups and meeting planners. Of special interest to bank travel planners would be the selection of suggested itineraries and hub-and-spoke tours.

What is one surprising thing people will find in Paducah?
People are surprised to find that a town of this size boasts a symphony orchestra and a new, state-of-the-art performing arts venue. The Paducah Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra-in-residence at the Carson Center performing arts center, also encompasses a wide range of ensembles, including a pops orchestra, string quartets, an auditioned adult symphony chorus, and a multicounty children’s chorus.

Tell us a favorite story about Paducah.

Like many communities along the Ohio River, Paducah suffered a tremendous flood in 1937 that submerged the entire city. Widespread attention focused on a particular house in the prominent neighborhood of Lower Town, six blocks from the banks of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. The floodwaters reached the second-story porch of this home and set the stage for a bizarre image that has been forever memorialized. “National Geographic” captured a photo of a cow standing on the second-story porch, stranded by the rising waters. The stranded cow, Bossie, survived the great flood of 1937 with help from a caretaker who held routine feedings when he visited the house by boat. Today, this house still stands in LowerTown and is known by locals as “the cow house.”

Location and size:
Paducah is located in Western Kentucky along Interstate 24, halfway between St. Louis and Nashville, Tennessee. The Port of Paducah, at the foot of Broadway in the historic downtown, is at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Paducah boasts a population of 27,000.

Group contact information:
Fowler Black, Sales Director
Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau
128 Broadway
Paducah, KY 42001