The Jameses' collection grew from Ardis’s love of fabric and Robert’s joy in encouraging Ardis. Both were familiar with quilts—their mothers both quilted. And Ardis had formerly spent nine years as part owner of Threadneedle House, a fabric shop in Chappaqua, New York.

But the seed of collecting wasn’t planted until 1979, when Ardis visited her sister-in-law in Troy, Michigan and attended a quilt show. She admired an old Mariner’s Compass quilt. She bought it. The next year she returned to the annual show and bought two quilts. The following year she bought four quilts. The collecting bug was biting. 

From the start, Bob encouraged her interest. In 1983 he joined her to attend a Tarrytown, New York show. As Ardis later explained, “Bob didn’t want to be left out of the fun.” Together they bought 13 quilts, proof that they now consciously considered themselves collectors. As collectors, they were a perfect combination. Ardis was in the forefront, taking the lead on acquisition decisions. She kept track of artists and was genuinely interested in their lives. Bob was a natural collector. Once interested in a collecting field, he wanted to know it all, and discover things people weren’t already collecting. He saw the big picture: how far the collection could grow, where it could go, and its potential impact.

Their teamwork led to the rapid growth of what would become one of the most important quilt collections in the country.