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The Gee’s Bend Quilts

December 19, 2008

I like art – truly. But I am first and foremost a history lover.  All disciplines, to me, run back to history.  Language, sociology, anthropology.  Literature allows me to have an inside view into the hearts and minds of the people that died long before I was born.  And art allows me to reach out and (almost) touch them.

I love the impressionists not just for their colors, but because of the ridged brushstroke edges that show me exactly where the artist was placing his brush, where he stopped it.  Sculptures are even better.  Tapestries, woven by hand.  Sculpted gate portals, that people passed under.

So, seeing the Gee’s Bend quilt exhibit was perfect.  Gee’s Bend is a rural community in Alabama, where the women have been quilting for about 150 years.  Far from its being merely practical, they see it as their unique artistic expression and talent.  The quilts were fascinating in themselves–the unusual juxtapositions of material and color, the uneven stitches.  They are unlike any other quilt I’ve seen – with a limited range of designs made endless by abstraction and modification.  No one taught these women art form.  But in those quilts I could see rooftops and plantations, creativity and imagination.  The quilts let me into a little bit of the people’s lives – what they thought, what they found beautiful, what they saw out in the fields.  But even more so, those quilts just breathed life.  They weren’t meant to be hung on a wall.  They were slept in; they had coffee spills from a clumsy child, they were made of old work jeans covered in grass stains, they were stretched out of shape from being spread out over a bed.  I wondered what weddings, farm fields and church gatherings those cast off dresses had been worn to.  This type of art is where life meets beauty, creates it, brings it to live in our spaces.

To see a few photos of some of the quilts, click here: quilts

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