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Day 5, The Gee’s Bend Quilters

March 11, 2011

For our final segment in honor of International Women’s Day, Guildess will feature an inspiring multi-generational group of women, known as the Gees Bend Quilters. The history of Gees Bend, Alabama dates back to the Civil War when a group of freed slaves founded a tight knit isolated community, the federal government coined as the “Alabama Africa.”

The people of Gees Bend lived very modestly, by working off the land to survive and provide for their families.  All members in the community had their own responsibilities to contribute towards daily upkeep. Women not only cooked and tended to their children, but they also sewed all of their clothes and bedding by hand. To keep warm, women would quilt blankets from old pieces of tattered clothing. Mothers and grandmothers passed down the craft to their children so everyone could continue household responsibilities. Frequently, the women of Gees Bend would come together to sing about their lives while they quilted. Little did they know that their quilting would find them fame and great honor in years to come.

Click Here to listen to an NPR discussion about The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

The Gees Bend Quilters were not discovered until a curator named William Arnett set forth to search for significant “artistic phenomena that might exist from the south that we just didn’t know about.” Arnett thought since southern African American history in the United States was so rich with music, there must be a fine art counter part that is equally as great. Arnett heard about Gees Bend, Alabama because the area is one of the last isolated communities of a few hundred people left in the south. As soon as he saw the quilts made by women in Gees Bend he knew he discovered something amazing.  Within time Arnett convinced the women their quilts were something special that the public needed to see. The Gees Bend Quilters have since been described as vernacular artists who have created one of the ‘best examples of minimalism that America has to offer.’ Their work has been exhibited across the country at venues like the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.


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