I was thinking back today on some of the needlework I have seen which has made a deep and lasting impression on me - not an easy task when I have seen and imaged so much! But these quilts which I visited in the Philadelphia Museum of Art will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is because they have thrown off the chaffing shackles of rigid and formal design that appeals most to me. In my experience, there is a kind of emancipation of expression that comes with working with found materials - it is like working from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in. Max Bloch said that originality was not the creation of new things, but rather the transformation of our origins into something previously unseen. For me the Gee's Bend quilts are truly original in this sense. Gee's Bend quilts are made by African Americans whose roots are in a plantation founded in the 1800s in Alabama, later sold to Mark Pettway of North Carolina who took up residence there with about 100 slaves. About 18 of the present Gee's Bend Co-operative are surnamed Pettway and this quilt was made by Annie E Pettway who lived from 1904-1971.
Irene Williams, born 1920, made this energetic quilt which inspires me on busy and exciting days.
While this quilt by Loretta Pettway, made with men's clothing, is my particular favourite, one upon which I can gaze endlessly, like a mandala. My gaze has a particular sympathy for the pale grey stripe in the bottom left hand square and then, after roaming, finds a steady rest in the pale blue central square.
But it is this quilt by Rachel George made around 1935 from old dress fabrics and feed sacks which has it own special, original voice, speaking very directly to us and generations to come. To find out more or to contact about purchasing a Gee's Bend Quilt click here.