Friday, December 27, 2019

What can we learn from the Gees Bend quilts?

Our local art museum (GMOA) recently had a great quilt show...the quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph (1935-)
Mary Bendolph is one of the original Gee's Bend quilters, an example of the African American movement in quilting that began in isolated small communities where there was a supply of fabric (usually offcuts from a factory) and not much other industry.  (Oakland in CA was another area where this kind of quilting spontaneously appeared).
The ladies of Gee's Bend - a small town in a bend of the Alabama river between Alabama and Georgia - began a Freedom Quilting Bee, a craft co-operative,  during the 1960s.

Quilt making took place between planting and harvesting periods during the year when there was not so much field work and the ladies got together to sew and chat and sing and support one another.

Mary Bendolph learned more traditional patterns the Log Cabin variation above (usually known as Courthouse Steps)...but gradually began to develop her own style.  This was much more dynamic and experimental.  Experimentation was the key - don't just copy a traditional pattern, play with it!

Cut it up and rearrange it, try a different orientation, add on another strip!
don't be afraid to be bold and strong.  sometimes that is just what is necessary to make a statement.
And the pieces became more and more individual:

How inviting and encouraging this looks - commanding a whole wall of the gallery! Obviously nothing else could hold up next to its vigor.  So don't be afraid...don't be timid...let the colors and the shapes sing.
Work large and confidently.

Begin with one idea, then enlarge it as you go around...and around...note how the sky and the sunshine blazed their way into this quilt!

More sky...but overall a cooler palette and a more controlled outcome...d'you prefer that? or not?

well actually it was a rather cool rainy day outside, but very pleasant...I love the winter colors here in the south-east:  here are a few more picture of the area around the museum - VERy different from these vibrant quilts:

so - tell me - what do you learn from the Gees Bend quilts?  There are many many more examples on line of course...and a beautiful giant catalogue from the first show that travelled around the country - I saw it in New York several years ago...great to have this one right on my doorstep!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!
Love to have your comments.....


JustGail said...

I guess for me it would be "don't wimp out!" regarding color selection, and "what are these rules of which you speak?" regarding nice even blocks. I tend to think, probably over-think, whether fabrics go together, the pattern is suitable and blocks line up, etc.

kay said...

I love the shadow on the wall in that last photo, creating a new border along the bottom of the quilt! I guess the lessons I take from that are: Be open to the possibilities; presentation can create new design elements; wavy borders aren't necessarily a bad thing. 😉

Annie said...

We don't need to run to the quilt shop for fabric every time we want to make a quilt. We don't need to buy a quilt pattern or a kit to make a quilt. We can make original quilts using ideas from our own heads and use whatever fabrics we have on hand. That's what we can learn from Gee's Bend quilts! I saw an exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts in Cleveland, OH, a number of years ago and own the book of their quilts that was published in 2002.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Annie, thank you for commenting....and so right!
Many of the more inventive and creative quilters, Sue Benner comes to mind, never go to the fabric store.
It’s a great place to start when you first begin....but once past your first couple of quilts, it’s time to take off with your own ideas.
And “found” or created fabrics are so much more open to varied expression... Elizabeth