For generations the women of Gee’s Bend, Ala., quilted out of necessity, patching together fragments of threadbare clothing to help keep their families warm during winters in drafty, unheated homes. Due to geographical isolation, they did so out of view of the arts world.
That changed in 1998, when Atlanta-based collectors Bill and Matt Arnett found an image of a Gee’s Bend quilt in a book they’d used while researching another project. The image led them to Alabama, where they found hundreds more quilts. In 2002, the Arnetts partnered with Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and debuted The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, an exhibition that changed the face and history of American quilting.
The quilts and quilters themselves are heralded for their improvisational designs, bold and contrasting colors and the ragged, textured fabrics. It’s those designs that have ultimately defined the groups’ collective aesthetic and carried its work from one small corner of southern Alabama to cities like Houston, Mobile, New York and San Francisco. — K.S.