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Finally! The amazing quilts of Gee’s Bend

09/09/2014

bend gees

The famous quilts of Gee’s Bend, Ala. travelled 1,500 miles to a small museum in Searsport, Me. where I finally got to see, feel and experience them up close.

I’ve waited almost 10 years for this.

Last Saturday, Jen and I photographed each other at the Penobscot Marine Museum with the art work of a celebrated quilt collective from a tiny village in rural Alabama. It was the first time the Gee’s Bend quilts had been exhibited in Maine.

So you’re not into quilting and never heard of Gee’s Bend?IMG_20140907_142127

Well, let me tell you these aren’t your grandma’s quilts.

The women of Gee’s Bend have made quilts in their own unique style for generations. First as slaves in the old south.  Then out of necessity during segregation. An Alabama River ferry connecting Gee’s Bend to its nearest large town was maliciously halted in 1965, isolating the community in a dusty oxbow.

In the 1990s, a folk art collector found his way to Gee’s Bend and started buying and preserving the older quilts. Many had been packed away and forgotten in attics for decades.

Now the quilts are exhibited in some of the most important museums in the United States. They are  heralded as works of modern art.

The Gee’s Bend quilt collection was first exhibited in 2002 at the Houston Museum of Art. The Whitney Museum of Art in New York displayed 60 Gee’s Bend quilts made by 42 women over four generations in 2006. I discovered the quilts when the U.S. Postal Service issued 39-cent Gee’s Bend stamps that same year.

It’s easy to see their place in the art world. Up close, the quilts generate feelings of celebration, inspiration, hope and creativity.

The Gee’s Bend quilters use striking color combinations, a distinctive patchwork style, well-worn or discarded fabrics and historic patterns connected directly to the soul. Each quilt looks like a Jasper Johns painting that can keep you warm.

IMG_20140907_142308 (1)A few years ago, Jen and I were in Santa Fe, New Mexico on vacation when we had a close call with the quilts. As we ate breakfast on our last day in town, I learned the Gee’s Bend quilts were on display at a nearby gallery. It was too late. Our plane was leaving in a few hours. It killed me to be so close and miss the show.

This time, I learned in May that the Penobscot Marine Museum, a museum that often features Maine folk art, would exhibit  a selection of modern Gee’s Bend quilts this summer.

This would be no Santa Fe.

The quilts hung like large canvas oil paintings in the museum gallery and like any great art show, were very inspirational.  Jen said we should try to make our own quilt based on a Gee’s Bend design. “It would be a good winter project. Something we could do together,” she said.

A winter in Bangor, Maine can be cold, dark and isolating, but not as isolating as Gee’s Bend.

We’ll give it a try. I just hope we can finish our quilt in less than 10 years.

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From → Out and about, Travel

2 Comments
  1. Emeraldgift@aol.com permalink

    Have fun!!!! I’ll be anxious to see it when it’s done!!!! Notice I said when not if:) I have a friend who makes award winning quilts and they are indeed beautiful and a true work of art!!!!!

  2. Very beautiful quilts. I have many quilt posts from Finland.

    Have a nice day!

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