Anatomy of a Quilt: The Gee’s Bend Freedom Quilting Bee

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Anatomy of a Quilt: The Gee’s Bend Freedom Quilting Bee

by Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Southern Cultures, Vol. 10, No. 3: Fall 2004

"Something akin to a bitter culture war took place each time I would bring out a sample of those decidedly un-Yankee Gee's Bend quilts. 'They don't look right,' we were told. 'Who would want to sleep under something like this?'"

The incredible quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, true masterpieces of American folk art with their “jazzy geometry,” on national tour following their initial display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, are finally receiving the recognition they have long deserved. Michael Kimmelman’s ebullient review in the New York Times captured for all the world to read the bold, independent spirit of this distinctive art form.1 Kimmelman said little, however, about the artists and the community that produced these gorgeous tapestries—especially during the quilters’ most audacious and productive years between 1930 and 1970—except for noting that the quilters are descendants of the slaves who worked the local Pettway plantation that dominated the landscape. I’d like to add my experience to the story.