Saturday, April 10, 2010

inspiration- the quilts of gee's bend

I am often asked where I find or look for inspiration and to be honest, the things that truly get me excited are often simple, pure and unintentional. One of my favorite resources in my "inspiration file box" are the quilts of Gee's Bend. Both the work and the story that comes from Gee's Bend truly fills me with joy, inspiration and challenges my own thinking when it comes to art, history and tradition.

For those who don't know about Gee's Bend- it is a rural community in Alabama about 30 miles southwest of Selma. Founded before the Civil War, it was a cotton plantation and the land of Joseph Gee and his relative Mark Pettway. After the Civil War the freed slaves became tenant farmers in this area and founded a community that was geographically isolated from the rest of the world. The community of Gee's Bend has survived all these years and today has about 750 residents and is less cut off but still very remote. This isolation has enabled traditions to survive well into the 21st century- quilting is one of these traditions.

Mary L. Bennett, born 1942. "Housetop" variation, ca. 1965, cotton and cotton/polyester blend, 77 x 82 inches.

Through time and history, the women of Gee's Bend have been making quilts simply to keep their families warm. The craft and "unique aesthetic" that the quilts have become known for, has been passed down through mothers and grandmothers for at least six generations.

Using scraps of everyday fabrics, well worn clothing, cotton sheets, denim and corduroy- the quilts of Gee's Bend each possess individual variation on color, design and pattern.

In the last thirteen years, the quilts have received well deserved international acclaim and have been touring around the country at places like the Museum of Fine Art in Houston, the Whitney Museum of Art, PBS, the Martha Stewart Show, Oprah's O Magazine and MANY more. The collection has been compared to the art of Matisse and Paul Klee and the New York Times called the quilts, "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced".

Lucy T. Pettway, born 1921. "Housetop" -- single-block "Half-Logcabin" variation (quiltmaker's name: "Plow Point"), ca. 1945, cotton, 84 x 69 inches

Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, 1911-1991. "Housetop"-- "Logcabin" variation, ca. 1935, cotton, rayon, 84 x 79 inches

When I first saw the quilts of Gee's Bend, I was visually blown by how simple, modern and truly innovative the work is. When I began researching further about the history, traditions and stories of the amazing women of Gee's Bend, I was inspired in new ways. I often revisit the quilts and story of Gee's Bend to remind myself of the simplicity, power, tradition and beauty that is possible through art and craft.

Lucy Mooney, ca. 1880-1969. Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt, ca 1935, cotton, denim, wool, 87 x 68 inches

Polly Bennett, born 1922. Blocks, 1942, cotton (dress and pants fabric, curtain material, mattress tickng), 81 x 83 inches.

Lottie Mooney, 1908-1992. "Housetop" -- fourblock "Half- Logcabin" variation, ca. 1940, cotton, rayon, 88 x 73 inches.

Leola Pettway, born 1929. "Log Cabin" -- "Courthouse Steps" variation (local name: "Bricklayer"), ca. 1975, corduroy, 85 x 70 inches

For more about the quilts of Gee's Bend-


krissy said...

I learned about the wonderful Gee's Bend quilts last summer when I was taking a course to become a teacher-librarian. I had to do a project about a picture book and Stitchin' and Pullin' by Patricia McKissack caught my eye (and appealed to my crafty-side) immediately so I chose that for my project. I fell in LOVE with the book and highly recommend it. The story is lovely and the pictures are absolutely stunning! Here's a link if you want to take a peek at the book:

Leslie said...

My mom and I were fortunate to be able to see an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. They are truly amazing pieces for so many reasons... first, the wonderful use of color and design by people without formal art training... and then the use of old clothing and other items to make something new and useful. These people were so poor that every single thing they owned was precious to them and nothing could go to waste. Most touching to me was the quilt made by a woman (I think you have it shown here) that was made of her late husband's work clothes. The quilt is a wonderful tribute to him and the hard work he did. Thanks, Alisa, for sharing the work of Gee's Bend here. It is truly inspiring!

Elyse said...

I saw a play, called "Gee's Bend", based on the town and it's culture. The quilts were very inspiring, but the best part was the womens' reactions to the fact that their quilts, made from scraps of cloth and rags, were to be hung up in museums as art. The play itself was very creative and passionate. Highly recommended :)


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