Gee’s Bend quilters

Some months ago I wrote a blog about an unexpected gift I’d received – an Amazon voucher. I spent this on two items: a book about Amish quilting, and another about the Gee’s Bend quilters. I won’t review the first book –  it’s interesting enough but a bit of a disappointment mostly because it was a very battered second-hand copy. I generally find when buying second-hand books through Amazon that the description of the book’s condition tends to be pretty accurate, but not in this case. The book in allegedly ‘good’ condition, was in bad shape.

Gee's Bend quiltsHowever, the other book ‘Gee’s Bend: the Architecture of the Quilt‘ was brand new, and very reasonably priced for such an impressive production. It’s an oversized book; a coffee-table book, I suppose, but this feature means that the photographs are relatively large and informative. It’s a stunning book and I’m very pleased to have it in my collection. The story of the Gee’s Bend community and the ‘discovery’ of the quilts by the art world are recorded in detail, and  a very absorbing story it is too. The artists who created these wonderful artefacts lived in conditions of dire poverty, with very few resources to hand. Despite, or maybe because of, these constraints, they succeeded in producing this rich body of work. The artists have been compared, rightly as it seems to me, with Klee and Matisse, although these guys are, obviously, Europeans, and the Gee’s Bend work seem to be firmly rooted in the design traditions of Africa.

There’s quite a lot of text in this book, which suits me as I like to read as well as to see. Some of the chapters have been contributed by a few of the younger quilters. Here’s a excerpt from Mary Lee Bendolph’s chapter: ‘The materials I use is mostly old material: pants, shirts, dresses, corduroy, jean pants. I take it and make quilts. Sometimes I use new material, but mostly I just use old cloth. People loved their pants or dresses, and they have worn out or just don’t fit anymore. I make quilts out of it because I hate throwing away things, because somebody can use things that people throw away. People are so wasteful now. It hurts me to see people waste up things. Because everything you throw away, it can be used and make something beautiful out of it. It makes me feel good when I take old clothes and make something beautiful. And old clothes have spirit in them. They also have love.’ Well, yes, Mary Lee, quite right. Although I think most of us would struggle to make something as beautiful as these women produced out of such worn and basic materials.

It’s a lovely book, and it’s become one of the most treasured items in my little textiles library. If you’re looking for something to spend a gift voucher on, then this could be an excellent choice.