Situated on the banks of the Alabama River, Gee’s Bend resembles an inland island, surrounded as it is on three sides by water. This geographically isolated community has given rise to generations of African American quiltmakers possessed of peerless creative talents unparalleled in American art.
The residents of Gee’s Bend are direct descendants of the enslaved people who worked the cotton plantation established in 1816 by Joseph Gee. After the Civil War, their ancestors remained on the plantation working as sharecroppers. In the 1930s, the price of cotton fell, and the community faced ruin. As part of its Depression-era intervention, the Federal Government purchased ten thousand acres of the former plantation and provided loans enabling residents to acquire and farm the land formerly worked by their ancestors. Unlike the residents of other tenant communities, who could be forced by economic circumstances to move—or who were sometimes evicted in retaliation for their efforts to fight for civil rights—the people of the Bend could retain their land and homes. Cultural traditions like quiltmaking were nourished by these continuities.
The community’s unique patchwork quilting tradition that began in the 19th century has endured. Hailed by the New York Times as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced,” Gee’s Bend quilts constitute a crucial chapter in the history of American art and today are in the permanent collections of over 20 leading art museums.
These images show the entirety of the quilts, including their handmade edges, against a white background.
All Full View Quilts
Here the focus is on the inherent design elements and abstract imagery in the quilts rather than as finished objects.
All Close View Quilts
Though obviously less of an overt design statement, the care, stitching, and materials that go into the back face of many of the Gee's Bend quilts is often a subtle expression of the artist's sensibility.
All Quilt Backs