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Gee’s Bend – American Art at it’s Finest

Fiber College, Gee’s Bend and Strung Together – Part 2 of 3, by Terri Malloy

When I first saw Gee’s Bend listed as an event, I didn’t know what it referred to other than it was a quilting workshop. Little did I know what a rich and deep rooted story there was behind The Quilter’s of Gee’s Bend.

*Gee’s Bend is actually a block of land in Boykin, Alabama enclosed on three sides by the Alabama River in rural Wilcox County in Alabama’s Black Belt. It was named for Joseph Gee, a large landowner from Halifax County, N.C., who settled here in 1816. Gee brought 18 African-American slaves with him and established a cotton plantation within the bend.

The enslaved women from Gee’s Bend began quilting out of necessity as a way to keep warm. They pieced together scraps of fabric and clothing in abstract patterns that often represented their cultural heritage.

*These patterns and piecing styles were passed down over generations, surviving slavery, the antebellum South, and Jim Crow. During the Civil Rights movement in 1966, the Freedom Quilting Bee was established as a way for African-American women from Gee’s Bend and nearby Rehoboth to gain economic independence. The Bee cooperative began to sell quilts throughout the U.S., gaining recognition for the free-form, seemingly improvisational designs that had long been the hallmark of local quilt design. As awareness grew, so did acclaim, and the quilts entered the lexicon of homegrown American art.

*Since then, quilts from Gee’s Bend have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and others. In 2006, the U.S. Postal Service even issued ten commemorative stamps featuring images of Gee’s Bend quilts.

This year marks the third visit by Miss Stella Mae and Miss China Pettaway to Searsport Shores.

They first visited Searsport Shores in….

This year’s students jumped right in on their projects. Each attendee had one-on-one personal instruction time with Miss Stella Mae and Miss China. Students learned their preferred techniques and how to incorporate elements into their quilts in the style of Gee’s Bend Quilters.

During their stay, Miss Stella Mae and Miss China made time to school us on how to make proper biscuits and they even learned something new. Astrig introduced them to the wonderful world of Botanical Printing.

Meals were shared, amazing conversations were had and new friends were made. Their time here was brief but powerful. We are forever grateful for their willingness to travel to Searsport Shores all the way from Gee’s Bend Alabama to teach and share their incredible quilts and stories with us all.

You can follow The Gee’s Bend Quilters and learn more about them on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GeesBendQuiltmakers

Stay tuned for Part 3 of 3 where we will deep dive into Strung Together – The Old Time Music Festival and Campout.

*Some information after the asterisks was gathered from an article in the National Endowment for the Arts Blog https://www.arts.gov/stories/blog. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend: A Slide Show by Rebecca Gross 10/2015

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