Event: The Quilters of Gee’s Bend
Date: March 4, 2023
Location: Oakland Marriott
Photos (50): Photographers at Large
Gee’s Bend quilters were hosted for a week-long residency highlighted by an exhibition of quilts and lecture. The lecture/conversation was hosted by the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series, with Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway from Gee’s Bend, Alabama.
The New York Times calls the quilts from Gee’s Bend “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.” The story of Black women quilters in a small rural town in Alabama did not begin with this acclaim. Today’s quilters come from multiple generations of women who anchored their families and communities with work, faith, and love. They are champions in the preservation of Black culture and the fight to participate in democracy. They began by making quilts out of dire necessity. Their families slept on them and they kept them warm. They made use of used and otherwise cast-off fabric out of thrift imposed by poverty and isolation. The quilts were warm and comfortable and, as is the case with the hand-made, they bore the beauty of care, work and purpose. Many of them glowed with a specialness that catches the eye and captures the heart.
The quilters represent the power of community economic empowerment, and they are a dynamic model of a life-style dedicated to producing culture that speaks of, for and by the people.
Through time, perseverance and tradition since the mid-19th century and before, Gee’s Bend quilts have become recognized as important works of art that speak with visual eloquence to the history and continuum of making beautiful things by hand to serve utilitarian purpose. The quilts are now sought after around the world, giving the quilters income and independence. Visitors to Gee’s Bend can see and buy quilts and take quilting workshops taught by the Pettways and others at the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective.
The preservation of this culture is emblematic of the importance of traditions, work that binds family and community to protecting and preserving our democracy. Out of many cultures and histories, we are one country. Through practicing and sharing our cultures we help create positive social change.