Written by Kari Gardo, Senior Honors student at Western Carolina University
The following is an abstract of a longer research paper written for Robert Ferguson’s History class. If you would like more information please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama use the handicraft of quilting to create beautifully prosaic objects that served the practical purpose of keeping family warm in the winter. However, they became an overnight phenomenon that swept the nation that became enamored of African American southern vernacular traditions. In the small, economically depressed town of Gee’s Bend, these women turned to their hands to generate profit for their community. What began as a community quilting bee, quickly turned into an art phenomenon for collectors, viewers, and critics alike. Using fabric from old clothes, within the quilts the viewer can see the years of hard labor embedded in the worn scraps of working clothes. When the quilts caught the public eye, they were first largely dismissed as a craft to keep women busy. However, it’s implementation into museums by a determined preacher, the women of Gee’s Bend were able to change the foundations of art history and forge a space for Black creators within elite art spaces. These quilts went on to be reproduced at famous department stores and made into stamps by the United States Postal Service, labeled as an “American Treasure.” The women of Gee’s Bend took the art world on a journey through the home, public eye, and community, in order to find if quilts are meant to be practical or if they are meant to be in a gallery. They have transcended the traditional critique of art and have turned it towards the direction of cultural appreciation with something that originally held no artistic value to them.