The quilts of Gee's Bend
 
Over two centuries, the women of Gee's Bend—a small, rural community southwest of Selma, Alabama—have developed a distinctively bold and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional patchwork quilts. While each quiltmaker brings her unique personality to the community tradition, many Gee's Bend quilts are remarkable for their geometric simplicity mixed with a sense of flair, an innovative approach to a quintessentially American art form—the quilt—made possible by three heritages—African, Native American and European. The women of Gee's Bend have passed their skills and style down through at least six generations, from the 19th century to the present.

See some of the quilts of Gee's Bend.

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Gee's Bend enjoyed several years of national visibility. A quilting bee was formed just up the road from Gee's Bend, in Rehoboth, Alabama, that made standardized quilt patterns for department stores and later undertook piecework sewing projects for Sears, Roebuck and Co. That cooperative effort was the first opportunity for many women in the area to hold jobs and bring income into their households.

By the 1990s, quiltmaking in Gee's Bend had diminished significantly as younger residents moved away and most of the remaining quilters entered old age. In the late 1990s, William Arnett and his son Matt, as a part of their research of African-American quilts, visited Gee's Bend and embarked on a multiyear effort to document its quilts, history, families and stories. These efforts gradually expanded, and in 2002, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in partnership with the Arnetts, presented an exhibition of 70 quilt masterpieces from the Bend.

The Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibition was later followed by a second major exhibition, "Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt," which debuted in 2006 and is currently traveling to museums throughout the United States.

In 2003, with assistance from the Arnetts, the living quilters of Gee's Bend founded the Gee's Bend Quilters Collective to serve as the exclusive means of selling and marketing the contemporary quilts being produced by the women of the Bend.

Learn more about The Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibit, books and documentary at www.quiltsofgeesbend.com.
FROM: The Dream Lives: A Martin Luther King Day Special
Published on January 01, 2006

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