Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt' displays quilts from the 1930s through the 1970s and some quite recently, post the first exhibition in 2002. In A Cultural Patchwork,The architecture of the quilt, student PIPPA ECCLES today wrote an article and review for The Harvard Independent.
Pippa is fond of quilts and they are her thesis topic. She gives a condensed and precise overview of the history of the origins of quilting in Gee's Bend, from the 60s into the present. She hits on the controversy or controversies, including the ongoing, (pre-Gee's) debate about whether or not quilts are art at all. She gives her view of the exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is inspired by her personal take and the quilters history.
I digress for a moment- it is the quilter's history that has always grabbed me and my attention on the quilts too, admittedly, more than seeing the quilts in person. I like them better in books than in person myself. I made a reproduction of one I particularly liked in the big blue book. The top is made of three high contrast fabrics in all long narrow rectangles. I used older fabrics, used from clothes made in the mid last century and a sheet. I cut the pieces by scissors and made the pattern look the same, but it just didn't have the zing. It was harder than I had imagined to achieve the "awe" factor and in fact I did not achieve it all all. My respect for their artistic eye and creative thinking remains high, along with being inspired by their historical underpinnings beginning last century.
Pippa's article is worth your time to read. Here are a couple of out takes
"Their display is evidence of how far we have already come. However, it is hard not to feel like a true triumph of the quilting medium would allow the quilts to exist as artistic masterpieces without the justification of museum walls. "
"Despite the tendency toward improvisation and originality, many of these quilts are also based on patterns and display both a remarkable ability to innovative within boundaries as well as the inherently communal aspect of quilting. The “Housetop” pattern (a variation of the traditional Log Cabin) is a favorite amongst the women of Gee’s Bend. Other quilts are based on traditional Euro-American quilting patterns, such as Wild Goose Chase and Bethlehem Star, but still maintain the Gee’s Bend’s penchant for creativity and innovation."
This last one may have our dear late Cuesta Benberry rolling over in her grave- she was not a believer that African-America quilts were all asymetrical, not at all. Her books show us many quilts made in traditional block styles, including appliqué. Pippa writes "Even if seen in the light of the African American quilting tradition, one that has always favored asymmetry and improvisation, these quilts demonstrate a truly remarkable degree of originality." Pippa's statement indicates how embedded this belief is in American culture.
Have any of you tried to reproduce a Gee's Bend style quilt? Tell us about it, send photos.
I will soon post photos from PIQF. It was an amazing show and I took lots of pictures with you in mind. I have to catch up on biz first and then your show will begin, with all credits given!