String-pieced columns, ca. 1950, by Jessie T. Pettway (b. 1929)
This March you can watch an Emmy-winning PBS film, Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend
, at the Gibbes, with two screenings on Thurs. March 1 at 1 p.m. and Wed. March 14. at 6 p.m. The documentary follows quiltmakers from a small, remote community in Alabama as they take a bus trip to The Milwaukee Art Museum. The screenings are included with your admission to the Gibbes ($15/adult, $13/senior and military, $10/student, $6/youth).
The quilts made by African-American quiltmakers from Gee's Bend, Ala. have been hailed by the New York Times
' Michael Kimmelman
as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced." In his 2002 NYT
art review of the Whitney Museum's exhibit (which showcased the quilts), Kimmelman described the small town of Gee's Bend as "occupying a bulb of bottom land, a U-shaped peninsula five miles across and seven miles long, hemmed in on three sides by the Alabama River."
Isolation has always been the place's curse but also, because it has protected the community and been a means of incubating art, a blessing. For generations, women of the Bend have passed down an indigenous style of quilting geometric patterns out of old britches, cornmeal sacks, Sears corduroy swatches and hand-me-down leisure suits — whatever happened to be around, which was never much. Quilts made of worn dungarees sometimes became the only mementos of a dead husband who had nothing else to leave behind. They provided comfort and warmth, piled on top of cornshuck mattresses or layered six or seven deep for the cold nights.
But they also became declarations of style, flags of independence hung to dry on wire lines for the neighbors or anyone else to see.