The Quilts of Gee's Bend
Last night I accompanied some girl friends in their new home to watch a documentary made by the woman who owns their beautiful house. The film was about the Quilt Makers of Gee's Bend, Alabama.
It's hard to know where to begin when telling about these remarkable quilts and the women who made them. I first saw the quilts a few years ago at an exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta. I guess I'll begin with what stuck me first, the quilts. They are truly incredible pieces of modern art; patterns, colors, and compositions that speak to what art is. Elements of design that are taught at institutions, made by women who received very little, if any, schooling in their lifetimes. These quilts really made me rethink art, this magnificent creativity flowing out of these women--who, until someone told them, had no idea what they were making was art. They were just expressing their hearts, and as they said in their own words, their joy--providing warmth for their families and adding color to their homes.
The quilt makers of Gee's bend come from an area of Wilcox Co., Alabama that was once the site of a major plantation. The descendants of the slaves on that plantation remain there to this day. At one point, during the depression, this tiny area was the poorest place in the country. The quilts of this time reflect the poverty, made mostly out of worn down blue jeans. The women there had always quilted, mostly for practical reasons, and never really thought much of it. Quilting was as natural, and as expressive to them, as the gospel songs that constantly flowed from their lips--sewing joy and sorrow and prayer and song into every piece. One woman described how, after her husband died, she made a quilt out of all of his clothes to wrap herself in when she missed him.
The quilts have now been discovered by art historians and taken from beds in modest homes and hung on the white walls of art museums all over the world, made into stamps, even displayed on posters in the Whole Foods in Mtn. Brook.
I recommend checking it out.