The act of bringing beauty into the world is always available. At any time, and for all people.
It’s been available for the last hundred years or so in a small bend of the Alabama River where a group of women, poor and uneducated, have been creating patchwork quilts that rival the greatest of modernist paintings.
The women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, have used whatever they have to hand – scraps of flour bags, old denim jeans, tattered handkerchiefs and work clothes – to overturn all the established traditions of genteel quilt-making. Their improvisational works of art have featured in major galleries throughout the US.
About Gee’s Bend
Gee’s Bend is a small rural community southwest of Selma, Alabama.
Founded in antebellum times, it was the site of cotton plantations, primarily the lands of Joseph Gee and his relative Mark Pettway, who bought the Gee estate in 1850. After the Civil War, the freed slaves took the name Pettway, became tenant farmers for the Pettway family, and founded an all-black community nearly isolated from the surrounding world.
During this isolation,
the town’s women developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional American (and African American) quilts, but with a geometric simplicity reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art. The women of Gee’s Bend passed their skills and aesthetic down through at least six generations to the present.
Below is a selection of their quilts.
Notes: All references from The Quilts of Gee’s Bend website.
Images: Annie Mae Young, Work-clothes quilt with centre medallion of strips, 1976; denim, corduroy, synthetic blend (top); Jessie T. Pettway, Bars and string-pieced columns, 1950s, cotton (2nd from top); Annie E. Pettway, Flying Geese variation, ca. 1935, cotton, wool (2nd from bottom); Linda Pettway, born. 1929, “Housetop”, ca 1975, corduroy (bottom)