The Quilts of Gee's Bend

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The Quilts of Gee's Bend were created by a group of women who live in the isolated African-American hamlet of Gee's Bend, Alabama. "The compositions of these quilts contrast dramatically with the ordered regularity associated with many styles of Euro-American quiltmaking. There's a brilliant, improvisational range of approaches to composition that is more often associated with the inventiveness and power of the leading 20th-century abstract painters than it is with textile-making," writes Alvia Wardlaw, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts.[1]

Lucy Mingo of Gee's Bend, Alabama made this spectacular pieced quilt in 1979. It includes a nine-patch center block surrounded by pieced strips. Collection of Bill Volckening, Portland, Oregon.

The quilting tradition in Gee's Bend goes back to the 19th century, when the community was the site of a cotton plantation owned by a Joseph Gee. Perhaps influenced in part by patterned African textiles, female slaves pieced together strips of cloth to make bedcovers. Throughout the post-bellum years and into the 20th century, Gee's Bend women made quilts to keep themselves and their children warm in unheated shacks that lacked running water, telephones and electricity. Along the way they developed a distinctive style, noted for its lively improvisations and geometric simplicity.[2]

The quilts have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. The Whitney venue, in particular, brought a great deal of art-world attention to the work, starting with Michael Kimmelman's review in The New York Times which called the quilts 'some of the most miraculous works of modern art American has produced' and went on to describe them as a version of Matisse and Klee arising in the rural South. [3] Comparable effect can be seen in the quilts of isolated individuals such as Rosie Lee Tompkins, but the Gee's Bend quilters had the advantage of numbers and backstory.

More than 50 quiltmakers currently make up the Gee's Bend Collective., which is owned and operated by the women of Gee’s Bend. Every quilt sold by the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective is unique and individually produced.

Books and other media[edit]

  • The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, Tinwood Media
  • Gee’s Bend: The Women and Their Quilts, Tinwood Media
  • Documentary video on the Gee’s Bend quilters and a double-CD of Gee’s Bend Gospel Music from 1941 and 2002.
  • Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt, Tinwood Books
  • Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond, Tinwood Books
  • Creation Story: Gee's Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial, Frist Center for the Visual Arts

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Quilts of Gee's Bend"
  2. ^ Wallach, Amei. "Fabric of Their Lives". Smithsonian Magazine. 
  3. ^ Michael Kimmelman, 'Jazzy Geometry, Cool Quilters', The New York Times, Nov. 29, 2002