I wanted to see a showing of some of the quilts made by the women of Gee's Bend. I had heard of the wild beauty of these quilts. They have been celebrated as modern art. I was also interested in their connection to that place and its history.
Gee's Bend is a scrap of land, five miles long and eight miles wide, isolated from the rest of southwest Alabama by a bend in the Alabama River. The land had been Gee's plantation. The descendants of his slaves stayed to work the land as poor sharecroppers. There is no bridge. There wasn't even a ferry from 1962 until 2006. Many people believe that service was discontinued to keep the residents from voting. This link will let you read more about Gee's Bend.
The poverty and the isolation were terrible for the people. Out of necessity, they made quilts to keep their children warm. Each quilt did more than fulfill that purpose; it showed its own bold vision.
|"Flow Plans" Loretta Bennett 2012|
Those small pieces were transformed by the juxtaposition of color and pattern. This quilt actually vibrated when I looked at it.
|"Star of Bethlehem with Satellite Stars" by Leola Pettway 1991|
Another room of the Lehman exhibit contains Linda Day Clark's photographs of Gee's Bend. One shows a quilter assembling her pieces. The wall in front of her had a montage of family pictures. They looked like a different kind of quilt. I thought about how our lives are bits and pieces of memories.
Aren't we all collecting scraps? And aren't we all trying to make them into something useful and beautiful?
The quilters of Gee's Bend have certainly done that.
My husband Lee and I left the warmth of the gallery and took the subway to the western edge of Manhattan.
The cold weeks of February had transformed the Hudson River into a different kind of quilt!