My last 3 posts were loosely inspired by the Quilters of Gee’s Bend, which are currently exhibiting at @vmfamuseum with Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South. See story for more.
Gee’s Bend, later renamed Boykin, is located southwest of Selma, Alabama. It was not only a rural community but also an isolated one. Surrounded by the Alabama River on three sides, it was only accessible by a barely passable road until a reliable ferry service was established in 2006.
The area was once the site of numerous cotton plantations including one belonging to Joseph Gee. Many of the quilters featured here are direct descendants of enslaved Africans who took on the surnames of plantation owners such as Bennett, Pettway, & Irby. The unique quilting tradition from this area stands as a visual testimony to the resilience of a creative vision & intelligence that has survived over centuries. Often reflecting the world around them, these quilters have been masterful in their ability to create movement with color & composition, improvising upon well-worn quilting patterns to create something all their own.
While historically relegated to the margins of the art canon, these African American quilters are now celebrated as the heroins of American Modernism.