Inspiration: Gee's Bend Quilts

I'm often asked what inspires me to create what I do. My answer varies, depending upon when I'm asked, but one of my constant inspirations is the work of African American women artists. I get a thrill when I encounter a piece I admire, then find out it was created by someone who shares my background. Imagine my joy when I first saw the Gee's Bend Quilts!
A bit of history, from the Gee's Bend Quilt Colle

"Gee’s Bend is a small rural community nestled into a curve in the Alabama River 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 the Great Depression, the federal government stepped in to purchase land and homes for the community, bringing strange renown — as an "Alabama Africa" — to this sleepy hamlet. 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."

Now, I always request the Gee's Bend stamps from the post office, and I enjoy seeing them on my envelopes (even if they are mostly bills!).

Quilts from the Gee's Bend Collective are currently touring in museums across the country. Fellow Wellesley College art history major and Black alumna, Dr. Alvia Wardlaw, comments, "It asks us all about genius, and where does it reside. The compositions of these quilts contrast dramatically with the ordered regularity associated with many styles of Euro-American quilt making. There's a brilliant, improvisational range of approaches to composition that is more often associated with the inventiveness and power of the leading 20th-century abstract painters than it is with textile-making." Dr. Wardlaw, is curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and associate professor of art history at Texas Southern University, Houston. And, though I never met her, she was an inspiration to me, in college as the first African American graduate in art history. 'Gave me hope that I wasn't alone in my passion for art and artists.

Today I learned some of these beautiful quilt creations have been made into rugs by ABC Carpet & Home. They are gorgeous but quite expensive--I hope some of the proceeds will go to the women of Gee's Bend--it's only right and fair.

I love the color combinations, the geometric constructions, and the bold, graphic qualities of the quilts. I'd admire them if they weren't created by women who share my history, but I feel a strong connection to them because they are; they truly inspire me.


Jillian said…
Michelle, What a wonderful revelation these quilts and their creators are! I had never heard of them before. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. Once again, the human spirit triumphs over adversity.
Lynda Lehmann said…
Hi Michelle,

I just read about the Gee's Bend quilters. Very interesting! I certainly hope the Gee's Bend women do get part of the profits from the sale of their designs on carpets!

I've always liked the immediacy and strong graphic quality of African design. And I've been enjoying these stamps without knowing the Gee's Bend story. So many untold stories...Thanks for giving these women a voice!

I've subscribed to your blog, and look forward to reading more of it

Lynda from WWAO