Sunday, November 30, 2008


Gee’s Bend is a small rural community nestled into a curve in the Alabama River ofSelma Alabama. It was the site of cotton plantations, primarily the lands of Joseph Gee and his relative Mark Pettway, who bought the Gee estate in 1850. After the Civil War, the freed slaves took the name Pettway, became tenant farmers for the Pettway family, and founded an all-black community nearly isolated from the surrounding world. During the Great Depression, the federal government stepped in to purchase land and homes for the community, bringing strange renown — as an "Alabama Africa" — to this sleepy hamlet.The town’s women developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional American (and African American) quilts, but with a geometric simplicity reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art. The women of Gee’s Bend passed their skills and aesthetic down through at least six generations to the present. CLICK TO SEE EXAMPLES OF QUILTS the quilter of Gee's Bend Quilters collective history

Quiltmaker Mary Lee Bendolph.Quiltmaker Agatha Bennett.Quiltmaker Mary L. Bennett.The twentieth century, making quilts was considered a domestic responsibility for women in Gee's Bend. As young girls, many of the women trained or apprenticed in their craft with their mothers, female relatives, or friends; other quilters, however, have been virtually self-taught. Women with large families often made dozens upon dozens of quilts over the course of their lives.

The women consider the process of "piecing" the quilt "top" to be highly personal. In Gee’s Bend, the top—the side that faces up on the bed—is always pieced by a quilter working alone and reflects a singular artistic vision. The subsequent process of “quilting” the quilt—sewing together the completed top, the batting (stuffing), and the back—is sometimes then performed communally, among small groups of women.

Gee’s Bend today is a small, rural, primarily African-American community in Alabama, whose population numbers approximately 700. Located about 30 miles southwest of Selma inside a horseshoe-shaped bend at the base of the Alabama River, Gee’s Bend is surrounded by water on three sides. The geographic isolation created by the encircling river has marked life there for several generations. Gees Bend has just one road leading out of town, which was not even paved until about thirty-five years ago. The only other physical connection to the outside world was a ferry service leading across the river, which was terminated in the 1960’s.

Until recently, the women of Gee's Bend who made these lasting works of art would never have called themselves artists. They just made the quilts to keep warm. During the civil rights movement they formed a group called the Freedom Quilting Bee. It was a rural collective that produced quilts for eastern department stores. For 30 years the quilting bee provided employment for local black women. In the late 1990's the Quilting Bee ended because many of the members died. But the quilts that Gee's Benders created both at the Quilting Bee and in their homes have a lasting legacy. In the town today, there is only a post office and a grocery store. The residents mostly live in secondhand trailers and old shacks. Many of the young residents moved on to jobs in Birmingham or Mobile. The sadness of the town makes the brilliance of the quilters all the more inspiring.

In Gee's Bend the quilt symbolized practicality, survival, and the use and reuse of materials. A quilter’s designs passed on through generations from mother to daughter. These quilts were heirlooms connecting home and ancestors, who are represented in the quilts by their left behind clothing. As stated by one of the Gees Bend quilters Mensie Lee Pettway, ‘A lot of people make quilts just for your bed to keep you warm. But a quilt is more. It represents safekeeping, it represents beauty, and you can say it represents family history".

There are different names the Gee's Benders have come up with for their quilt patterns. They call the square -in -square log cabin pattern the name "housetop", the Courthouse steps a variation is known as "Bricklayer", the roman stripes or fence rail pattern is a "Crazy Quilt.

We now know a great deal about quilting and the woman of Gee's Bend.


I would like to introduce an activity based on one of the designs used by Loretta Pettway of Gee's Bend. It is called a"housetop" design because the squares represent the elevation of the roof of a house seen from above. Just like a bird's eye viewMapmakers show the various heights of land in different colors. We are going to make a topographical map of the classroom. {or your room}. Things in the room that are different heights will be represented by different colors on your map. The map will not show everything, just the major pieces of furniture. Measure the height of the major pieces of furniture such as desks, chairs, bookshelves etc. Record these measurements on a piece of graph paper. Draw the map of the classroom on a piece of white paper. Refer back to your recorded measurements. Color all the objects including the floor according to the following:

0-1 feet high = color 1

1-2 feet high= color 2

2-3 feet high= color 3

3-4 feet high= color 4

4-5 feet high = color 5

5 feet and higher = color 6

Some questions to think about after the activity is complete:

Does your map remind you of the quilts?

In what ways?

Would you consider your map to be a quilt?

Why or why not?

Here are two links to click on and meet people of Gees Bend :

link one The Quilters of Gee's bend Alabama clip 3

link two The Quilters of Gee's Bend clip 1


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