Thursday, February 14, 2019

Gee's Bend Quilts

Quilting is mostly an indoor pursuit, I believe, but it was from the Oakland-based Outdoor Afro page that I learned of a most interesting community of quilters in Alabama. To be honest, the story caught my attention because the town -- Gee's Corner -- shares its name with one of my favorite alumni.

The Souls Grown Deep link opens a beautifully curated celebration of the prolific body of work created over generations in the tiny community about 30 miles west of Montgomery. The online exhibition describes the significance of several different types of quilts created by the women of the community, in some cases representing a family project over 3 or even 4 generations. Importantly, each quilt represented on the site -- a tiny fraction of the many that the women of Gee's Bend have created -- points to a biography of its main artist.
Mural by Jessie T. Pettway
Photo by Billy Milstead
The story of Gee's Bend quilts does have an outdoors component -- the tradition is celebrated in the Gee's Bend Quilt Mural Trail, including Bars and String-Pieced Columns by Jessie T. Pettway.



The community and its art are known as Gee's Bend, after Joseph Gee, who established a cotton plantation with 18 African American slaves on the site in 1816. Despite the association with the slaveholder, the mostly black residents opposed the imposition of the name Boykin by the Federal government in 1949. Thus a Google search of the original name leads to a map showing the new name.


The geography of the settlement -- and the many indignities imposed on the community by Alabama and U.S. governments over the decades -- are described in some detail by Kyes Stevens of Auburn University in the Gee's Bend entry in the online Encyclopedia of Alabama. The article includes links to other articles about Gee's Bend, and to related articles on the geographies of Alabama's Black Belt. The historical geography of Gee's Bend is a case study in the creativity and insidious nature of voter suppression, which continues to this day in various guises.

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