Have you seen the movie How To Make An American Quilt? It’s a really great movie starring Winona Ryder as a young woman getting ready to get married. Her grandmother and her friends all decide to make a wedding quilt for her. While they are quilting, they start sharing their life experiences and we see the many different stories from the past. As the young woman ready to embark on a new chapter in her life, hearing these stories forces her to start thinking more about her life and future.
As you can see from this picture, this is the beginning of a quilt that I’m making. About three years ago, my mother and I went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and saw an exhibit called The Quilts of Gee's Bend. The quilts are incredibly beautiful and the stories of the women who made the quilts are awe inspiring as well. I decided then and there that I wanted to learn how to quilt and maybe somehow tell my own story in fabric. Plus have a pretty new quilt in the process!
Here is an excerpt from the website telling the history of the women and the quilts.
“Gee’s Bend is a small rural community nestled into a curve in the Alabama River southwest of Selma, Alabama. Founded in antebellum times, 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. In 2002, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in partnership with the nonprofit Tinwood Alliance, of Atlanta, presented an exhibition of seventy quilt masterpieces from the Bend. ...
In 2003, with assistance from the Tinwood organizations, all the living quilters of Gee’s Bend — more than fifty women — founded the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective to serve as the exclusive means of selling and marketing the quilts being produced by the women of the Bend. The Collective is owned and operated by the women of Gee’s Bend. Every quilt sold by the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective is unique, individually produced, and authentic — each quilt is signed by the quilter and labeled with a serial number. Rennie Young Miller of Gee’s Bend is the Collective’s president.”
Unfortunatley, it seems that things did not quite work out as was intended. Last year I read this article and learned that there are disputes between the parties and a couple of lawsuits. From what I can tell, Loretta Pettway filed suit in Alabama Southern Federal District Court. Chief Judge Granade is handling the case. Today, I spoke to someone in the Judge’s chambers who declined to state her name. From what she told me, it appears that the parties may be trying to settle the matter and have until April 24th to do so. We’ll see what happens.
So far my quilt is made of scraps from old jeans and T-shirts. A bit of my history. I bought some new fabrics to add also after looking at more quilts on blogs. I have a sewing machine, but still have not used it. For now, I’ve been sewing by hand while I’m watching TV and it’s going surprisingly well and fairly fast.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the meaning of history. It’s really just the documentation of peoples’ live and significant events. Some of which we may not appreciate the importance of until many years later. It’s Black History Month, which used to be just a week. I feel very strongly that Black History is American History, which should be discussed, learned about and shared all the time. History in general is important.
Some people may think learning about slavery is so far in the past and not relevant to their lives now. Especially if they are not black. I’ve been watching Part II of the PBS Series African-American Lives. It’s fascinating and I recommend that everyone see it. In the Boston area, it’s coming on tonight at 9:00.
A few days ago, I read an extremely interesting blog post written by Suttonhoo. I’ve mentioned her before and had the good fortune to meet her in person when I was in Chicago last summer.
Her post is about finding out that slavery is part of her family’s past and how to reconcile that knowledge with how she perceives herself and her family. Here is an excerpt.
“My mother's doing research on our family history and has traced down the fellow who kicked off her father's line in America -- the fellow Goochland, Virginia was named after. And, as you might suppose, having shown up in the 1600s, he became a landowner and a businessman and, goddammit, a slave owner."
As we move further into the 21st century, we Americans are on the brink of possibly electing our first black president. But we also have much history to learn about, personal and collective. I guess these are all pieces of the fabric that make up the ever expanding American quilt.
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Updated 4/1/2017: Lawsuits against and Atlanta art dealer were resolved in August 2008 according to this article. My quilt is finished! Take a look here!
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