Saturday, January 27, 2007

Quilts of Gees Bend Posts on Artisans Square

This discussion reminded me.....Since childhood, sewing, quilting and painting have been the ways, that I return to sitting in my heart in silence, total presence in the moment, listening to whatever might arise from within. The final product didn't matter as much to me as the process of working in silence, doing my best. When I would put on one of my jackets, I would notice an energy of love in it. It would feel like a hug. Wanting to know the truth about it, I would ask anyone who complimented me on my jacket, if they would like to try it on. If they said "Yes." I would watch and listen, to see their reaction. They would comment that "something in it felt so good" We are in the habit of looking and judging with the body's eyes. If you close your eyes and just lay your hand on something, listening, you may discover that you can feel the love with which something was made, the essence of the maker.

Written by Akshara on Artisan's Square

You can read more of the discussion here

You can read the article from The Smithsonian Magazine here that started the folder

I have to tell you I rarely venture into some folders on Artisan's Square...quilting being one of them because I just can't get to cutting up little pieces of fabric and putting them back together. This is not to say that it is not art and that others shouldn't do it, it's just not for me. I stumbled across the Gees Bend Folder and started to read because I have read articles about the Gees Bend Quilts before. The posts in the folder are very opinionated & emotional, but the words above made me break down and cry.

I want to say a few things about the discussion and these words...and I will try not to ramble. First, I am going to admit upfront that my perspective is from that of a Black woman which is totally dissimilar from other people living in has to be because I have had different experiences...even everyday events occur differently for my family than they do for any other ethnic or non-ethnic family in America.

Second, it enrages me when others belittle art. And it infuriates me when we who create belittle our own creativity and doesn't recognize that it is a form of art! Even if you buy a kit for a quilt, a dress or an apron from Joann's and use the kit exactly as it was sold to have still created something and it is still ART! I mean we call little children's drawings art. Why can't the thing that you have labored over and poured your heart and soul into be art, also!?! defines art as:

1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.
6. (in printed matter) illustrative or decorative material: Is there any art with the copy for this story?
7. the principles or methods governing any craft or branch of learning: the art of baking; the art of selling.
8. the craft or trade using these principles or methods.
9. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
10. a branch of learning or university study, esp. one of the fine arts or the humanities, as music, philosophy, or literature.

And third, I absolutely hate when people put down poor black people for whatever reason. Damn, we were poor and hated for so long that it is no wonder that we are amazed and filled with pride anytime there is some recognition for anything that we have achieved or accomplished. I didn't post to that folder because I didn't want to start anything but again the insensitivity of others is so demeaning. Maybe you don't think it is art. Maybe you don't think that the quilts of Gees Bend are anything special...maybe your grandma did make something like them...but and here is my great big but...these women prevailed when everything was against them. They loved, they laughed, they cared for their families when the world made it extremely hard for them to do so! And even legislated against them doing so. I am not saying that everything in that folder was negative - please do not walk away with that! I am just saying that once again maybe we should edit our thoughts before we post them before the entire internet world! God, I am starting to sound like the thought police! And I don't mean to!

Look my grandmother who taught me to sew made quilts for warmth for her family. They were "utility quilts" ~ made from the scraps of worn out clothing, pieces of fabric left over from items she had made and even old quilts that were worn out. She kept a basket full of these pieces and used them when it was time to make a new quilt. When she died my family rescued the few quilts that were left. My mother keeps them wrapped up in her linen closet treasuring what she has left of her mother. Those Gees Bend Quilts are treasures and art too. Because they represent a period of history in America. Because they represent the hopes and dreams of a people and mostly because they represent preserverance when everything directed at these women should have made them fail.

Yes, I am emotional about the subject. And yes, I will defend my people with every breathe in my body. I am proud to be a black woman living in America. I am proud of the things my people have accomplished in a nation where at every turn we were bullied, lynched, legislated against, hated for the color of our skin, and in some places even now still hated for those reasons. But we have preserved, we have accomplished, we have contributed and continue to do so! And I will speak out about it. Don't wanna read it ~ move on! Cause today I am having my say!

But mostly I want all of us to think about the words of Akshara:

If you close your eyes and lay your hands on something, listening you may discover that you can feel the love with which something was made, the essence of the maker...

Feel the love, people! That's all I am asking....


  1. AMEN! As a beginning sewist I browse various sewing blogs, I find myself returning to yours and Erica's (Hook & Needles). Intelligent and creative "sistas" who inspire me to continue to lovingly create things for myself and my family, you also offer food for the soul. Peace.

  2. Good points. I haven't read the Gee's Bend folder on Artisan's Square because I'm not a quilter either. I'm not sure if I should or not. I become sad when folks are too limited to see the beauty in ordinary things like these quilts.

  3. You've moved me to tears, Carolyn, and I don't cry easily. Well said! Wasn't that post by Akshara the most incredible.thing.posted.on.a.sewing.board.maybe.ever?

  4. I've not read the Artisan's Square folder either; however I have seen pictures of the quilts. I don't think that they are "ordinary" at all, I think that they are as profound and elegant an artistic expression as a Jasper Johns, a Raushenberg, or a Willem deKooning painting ever was.

  5. Carolyn,

    I was very moved when I read your blog. So well stated! Thank you for your eloquent and passinate discourse on artistic creations and valuing the cultural and historical heritage of the items that were made with love and courage! I was very moved when I read your blog.

  6. Yeah, what Kim said goes for me, too. I dipped into that folder on Artisan's square once, and could tell that my thoughts on the Gee's Bend quilts would not be appreciated. The reproductions I've seen immediately put me in mind of modern painting masters - with the added poignancy that all that beauty was made by women for the comfort of their families, with whatever little they had. Those quilts are heartbreakingly lovely.

  7. Thank you for the inspiring post and for sharing your genuine self on this blog. I also have enjoyed the Gee's Bend quilts as very creative quilting. What remarkable creativity and improvisation.
    The Akshara post was wonderful. I have added a quote from her as a wise woman message on my very new blog.


  8. Does everyone know that the Post Office issued stamps with pictures of some of the Gee's Bend quilts? It makes me very happy to pull one of them out and put it on a letter. Even at postage stamp size, the beauty of form and color in these quilts just sings out.

    Susan in Tucson

  9. Carolyn, I thought you might like this post from sometime ago on the topic. I love colors and dynamic of Gees Bend quilts. They are unique. I wish I had time to see it when the exhibit was at MFA.

  10. Last year when my DH was in the U.S. I had him bring me back a set of the Gees Bend stamps, for posterity. Shortly afterwards I purchased the big book. I have been sleeping with this book now for weeks. Just reading the stories over and over and looking at the quilts in detail. That is how I would like to quilt, that would be me. Those women are/were incredibly strong to have survived those times and without wasting energy/time on malice or hate. Maybe they had no energy left for those things, but rather channeled extra time and energy into quilting as a necessity, which showed how truly beautiful these women are/were.

    I looked in at the forum and moved on.

  11. Beautifully written Carolyn. thank you.
    I too don't read the quilting folders (or many of the others) on SG because they're outside the realm of my interest, and I spend enough time on the computer. But I appreciate that you did, and that you brought the thoughts here.
    Well said.

  12. One of the remarkable aspects of the Gee's Bend Quilters is the making of art and beauty from what could have been sheer drudgery - just another chore (making every bed cover your family needs). To find beauty and create art in the midst of meeting life's demands is amazing. I admire and strive to emulate their example - not just in quilting, but in daily life.
    To learn more about the Quilters, watch for the PBS documentary "The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend".
    Caroline - I very much enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work! Thank YOU.


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