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-