Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gee's Bend Inspiration

I grew up saturated with a certain kind of modern Mennonite quilt: carefully coordinated fabric bought specially for the design, intricate piecing with even more intricate infinitesimal white quilting on top. The colors were peach, Williamsburg blue, mauve, and forest green in the 80s. Now it seems to be pink and green. These are the kinds of quilts that are made and sold at fundraising auctions. Until a few years ago, I thought that's what quilts were.

(Oh dear, I only have time for a short post - I've got the can of worms in my hand).

Well, in short, I checked out The Quilts of Gee's Bend as recommended by Leila. I had heard of Gee's Bend before, from USPS stamps, but never seen the quilts or the women up close.

I am utterly amazed. The quilts of Gee's Bend are amazing. Shifting definitions and ideas in my head. Already narrowing my eyes at my stash and my future quilt plans. Fingering Kim's quilt with fresh vision and desire. Wishing I could go talk to the ladies of Gee's Bend and feeling shy.

This winter, I had been asking myself in irritation why I can't find a shorter project to sew than quilts; I even dabbled in painting and wallhangings. But I adore the play of color and texture in quilts and then you get to USE THEM - other projects just don't satisfy. I have been re-inspired by The Quilts of Gee's Bend.


Christian - Modobject@Home said...

Oh, don't get me started on the Gee's Bend quilts! My mother grew up in rural Alabama not far from there, it's an area of the country where my family roots run deep.

Several years ago our university's art museum hosted the Gee's Bend Quilt exhibition for several months. It is, by far, one of the most beautifully vernacular, tactile exhibitions that I have ever experienced. Amazing! My mother, a good friend who is an avid quilter and I all went to it together... we lingered all afternoon.

The Gee's Bend quilters, these women, are so humble, they have so little and yet they take such pride in their work. One quilt in the exhibit was made out of old denim jeans, flour sack shirts, and bits of flannel... the woman who crafted it made it from her dead husband's entire clothing wardrobe as she grieved. She said that it comforted her to literally wrap him around herself.

Lately I've been toying with the idea of making a quilt, a small one, but I am very intimidated. When and if I take on the project I think it will be much in the style and approach of the Gee's Bend quilters... using what I have and my own creativity to form not so much a pattern but a work of art.

Margo said...

Christian, I read about the husband's clothes quilt in the book and LOVED that sentiment.

I do love the Gee's Bend quilts, but I'm not sure I agree with the authors and scholars who called the women artists. I think they definitely had a vision and definitely were creative, but I have a hard time putting them alongside artists who do art for art's sake. These women, like the Amish I know, had to make quilts to keep warm and they chose stark, colorful designs that satisfied their eye. I have deep respect for their vision and art; I have less respect, I guess, for "artists" in the traditional sense. I am a very practical person, so these quilts moved me in ways that leisure quilts don't.

hmmm. I'm thinking out loud. I'm not going to edit that - I'm going to think more and then I'll do another post!

I have so much more to say about quilts! Clearly I need to do another post (and get back to my work goals for today and STOP skulking around online).

Shasta said...

I want to know how they quilted the one hanging at the front of ECSMS. I'm still sitting and puzzling over that design!

Christian - Modobject@Home said...

Margo, I absolutely agree... you put your thoughts into words better than I did but it's what I was alluding to when I described the exhibit as beautifully vernacular. Their craft was born out of necessity, their "look" out of what was pleasing to the eye, their "canvas" was what they had... to me that is the most respectable, awe-inspiring type of art and for that reason I do think of these women as artists, vernacular (not classical) art though it may be. These women have captured their culture in a very specific, tangible, and practical way -- very few traditional artists accomplish this.

Margo said...

Christian, now you put your finger on it much more clearly than I! The distinction between vernacular and classical art is especially useful to me. Thank you.