Over two centuries, the women of Gee's Bend —a small, rural community
southwest of Selma, Alabama—have developed a distinctively bold and
sophisticated quilting style based on traditional patchwork quilts.
While each quiltmaker brings her unique personality to the community
tradition, many Gee's Bend quilts are remarkable for their geometric
simplicity mixed with a sense of flair, an innovative approach to a
quintessentially American art form—the quilt—made possible by three
heritages—African, Native American and European. The women of Gee's Bend
have passed their skills and style down through at least six
generations, from the 19th century to the present.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Gee's Bend enjoyed
several years of national visibility. A quilting bee was formed just up
the road from Gee's Bend, in Rehoboth, Alabama, that made standardized
quilt patterns for department stores and later undertook piecework
sewing projects for Sears, Roebuck and Co. That cooperative effort was
the first opportunity for many women in the area to hold jobs and bring
income into their households.
By the 1990s, quiltmaking in Gee's
Bend had diminished significantly as younger residents moved away and
most of the remaining quilters entered old age. In the late 1990s,
William Arnett and his son Matt, as a part of their research of
African-American quilts, visited Gee's Bend and embarked on a multiyear
effort to document its quilts, history, families and stories. These
efforts gradually expanded, and in 2002, the Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston, in partnership with the Arnetts, presented an exhibition of 70
quilt masterpieces from the Bend.