This year at school, the girls and I have been learning about Gee's Bend, Alabama. Gee's Bend (renamed Boykin) is a small community in the Black Belt of Alabama. It started when hundreds of slaves were brought down from North Carolina by the Pettway Family (You can read about the history of the town here.) The town is in (and has been in) one of the poorest counties in Alabama.
The women started making quilts from what they had - work clothes, sheets, etc. And people started to notice them and recognize that their quilts are works of art. (Sidenote: Pottery Barn even has a line of bedding inspired by the quilts of Gee's Bend...and an interesting article about that here). Their quilts have now hung in museums across the country.
What's incredible to me is that they had never seen any type of artwork in their life...which in my mind, makes them true artists.
Here are some of their quilts:
Many of these, like this next one, are "Housetop" patterns. They came up with this pattern when they laid down in bed and looked at the ceiling in their shack. I'm going to use this pattern to make my next quilt, all from fabrics and old sheets, pillowcases, and clothes that I already have.
We watched a documentary about Gee's Bend at school, and one quilt that stuck out to me is one that a woman made after her husband passed away. She used all his old clothes to make the quilt, so that when she missed him, she could wrap herself up in him. Here it is:
So yesterday, our little school made the trek down to Gee's Bend. The girls were so excited. We made a small quilt (inspired by their quilts) to give to them, as well as a Gee's Bend Alphabet Book that we had them all sign. Each of their quilts tell a story, so ours told the story of our school - each flower representing the girls.
I wasn't sure what to expect - none of us had ever been there before. But it ended up being a perfect day, meeting these sweet women we had come to know and love.
This is Ruth Kennedy, my favorite person of the whole day. I really wanted to take her home with me. She quilted the potholders that Selah (above) bought. We were all able to buy one of their small works of art. I'm so glad I have something to remind me of these wonderful women, their quilts, and this day.