In 2003, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York introduced American to the dynamic quilts created by a group of women who live in the isolated, African-American hamlet of Gee’s Bend, Ala.
Gee’s Bend is located in southwest Alabama on a sliver of land five miles long and eight miles wide, a virtual island surrounded by a bend in the Alabama River.
Gee’s Bend was named after Joseph Gee, the first white man to stake a claim there in the early 1800s. The Gee family sold the plantation to Mark Pettway in 1845. Most of the approximately 750 people who live in Gee’s Bend today are descendants of slaves on the former Pettway plantation and many of the unrelated quiltmakers have the family name Pettway.
Isolated geographically, these inspirational quilters transformed the necessity of warmth with whatever materials were available into some of the most brilliant, improvisational approaches to quilt composition I have ever seen.
While I am the artist-in-residence at Allegheny College this weekend as part of The Year of Sustainable Communities at Allegheny College, a series of activities, workshops and events aimed at inspiring the campus and community to examine what provides a good quality of life for its citizens and enables them to be resilient in the face of challenges, we will look to the quilts and the quilters of Gee’s Bend for our inspiration.