gee's bend quilts
In 2003, the first exhibit of Gee's Bend Quilts came to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and I saw it during a major transition phase in my work. In an attempt to energize my organic, nature based imagery I had started to use multiple panels together, but the format I was using at that point was a fairly predictable line-up of same-sized panels, and my colors were uniformly earthy. Seeing these jazzy, improvizational quilts, with their unusual color juxtapostions and turns of design helped to bring important changes in my studio. To read more about that, please visit the essay section on my website's artist page
If you are not familiar with these quilts, they were "discovered" by the art world in the tiny, isolated town of Gees Bend, Alabama. These dynamic quilts were made by a close-knit group of African-American women who had absolutely no exposure to modern art movements, however much many of their designs call to mind modernist paintings. (Perhaps pointing to the roots both have in common in traditional African design.) The Gees Bend quilters emphasize individuality and inventive use of materials, and their approach has been carried out for four generations. Many of the quilts on display in that first exhibit were taken right from beds where they were being used (I have to hope that something was offered in return to keep the bed's occupants warm.)The quilt pictured here was made by Loretta Pettway in 1960.
A second exhibit, called Gees Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt, is opening October 8 in Indianapoils and will be touring to six other locations.