Gee's Bend

The De Young Museum is hosting an exhibition of Quilts from Gee's Bend, Alabama until November. We went to today to see the exhibit and I was amazed at how unexpected and interesting they were, especially considering how little the women who made them had to work with. Until recently I had never heard of these quilts, but I've seen people refer to them on various blogs and Whipup recently mentioned the exhibit in SF - so I went. For others like me who had never heard of them, the quilts of Gee's Bend are the work of extremely poor African-American women in the early 20th Centery from Alabama who used what ever they had to piece together patchwork quilts in order to keep their families warm. These people were so poor, they covered their walls with old newspapers to trap in heat and the randomness of these papers provided inspiration for many of the quilts.

The exhibit mentioned that while the basics of quilting were taught by the elders, most of the women were largely self taught. This is pretty obvious, the quilts themselves are not the polished type of cookie cutter product that we are used to today - there were no patterns, and pieces were added and sewn until the quilt was big enough and then they stopped.

Also the women were limited to the materials on hand, salvaging worn out clothes and curtains. Several of the quilts are made entirely of denim from workman's clothes, and one can still see where the jeans had been sewn together originally,

others were constructed entirely out of cordoroy.

It was a very interesting exhibit to see, strangely what these women were doing out of necessity seems to have become fashionable in crafting now - the vivid colors, unusual materials, the minimalist design. 'modern' quilting such as Denyse Schmidt's designs and those I've seen around on craft blogs have drawn alot from these quilts - deservedly so. I wish that the pictures I had did them justice but I was taking pictures of the postcards I bought. But you can see them here. If you've never seen them before (or even if you have), check them out!


bekka said...

how great that you got to see these.

Phoebe said...

It is such a reflection of the female psyche while being desperate to keep your family warm, to also create warmth through beauty.