Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers
American, 19th, 20th century.
Gee's Bend, Alabama.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, the women of Gee's Bend—a small, rural community southwest of Selma, Alabama—have made bold and sophisticated quilts that are remarkable for their geometric simplicity and modern aesthetic. The improvisational works of art were generally composed from work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, or remnants of fabric and carry forward an old tradition of textiles made for use in the home. Gee’s Bend is particularly important, because it was one of the few places where collectors and scholars were able to locate quilts made by three or four generations of women in the same family.
Moreover, the tight knit, isolated community produced and preserved works that bear witness to certain visual conversations among community quilting group members and generations of family members. Few communities can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity.
Resembling an inland island, Gee’s Bend is surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River in Wilcox County. The roughly seven hundred inhabitants are mostly descendants of slaves, who for generations worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation. To date, quiltmakers there have produced hundreds of patchwork masterpieces, with the oldest surviving examples dating from the 1920s. Emboldened by a keen visual imagination that expands the expressive boundaries of the quilting genre, the quilts of Gee’s Bend constitute a crucial chapter in the history of quilting and the larger field of African American art.
- Phillip March Jones
Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art (WASH DC), High Museum of Art (Atlanta), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2018-19
History Refused to Die, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2018
Revelations: Art from the African American South, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2017-18
Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN, 2012
Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt, Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, 2008
The Quilts of Gee's Bend, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Milwaukee Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2002-06
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Milwaukee Museum of Art, Milwaukee
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
My Soul Has Grown Deep: Black Art from the American South, exhibition catalogue for History Refused to Die, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2018
Creation Story: Gee's Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial, exhibition catalogue Frist Center for the Visual Arts and Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2012.
Arnett, Paul, Joanne Cubbs and Eugene W. Metcalf, Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2008.