“All I know is that the museum’s a better place because of the Gee’s Bend exhibitions. They expand the sense of what art can be.”
-Peter Marzio, Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
During the 1960’s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, many descendants of slaves in the small rural town of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, registered to vote or marched for their rights, then subsequently lost their jobs.
Quilting was a way of life for the women of Gee’s Bend, going back to the early 1800’s. In the time of the hardship that defined their era, the generation of the mid-1960’s reverted to this tradition of their grandmothers and great grandmothers, as did their children and grandchildren, even those who had moved away from Gee’s Bend.
The fabric they used had its own story to tell. The quilters culled material from old denim trousers, women’s blouses or skirts—anything no longer serviceable for its original purpose.
Eventually the quilts caught the eye of the art community who saw it as a brilliant form of abstract art. Touring exhibits have allowed visitors in a number of cities to enjoy the work of the women of Gee’s Bend. New York Times art critic, Michael Kimmelman stated: “(These) eye-poppingly beautiful quilts turn out to be some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”
What is it about these quilts that allows us to consider them as art? Art tells a story and often calls attention to social issues that need to be addressed. The original intention of the quilters emerged from the need for warmth in difficult times (electricity was often cut off). Today, their work calls to mind the tragedies of inequality and the unthinkable practices that led up to the battle for Civil Rights. They speak to the courage and resourcefulness of the African-American community that sought to right injustice.
In addition, the quilters, without formal education in the fundamentals of art, employed a number of the “tools” used by artists: Consider the use of color, the balance created by symmetry or asymmetry, implied texture achieved through the choice of fabric, and contrast of light and dark material…just to name a few.
For today’s prompt, let us consider the fabric of our own lives. Several ways to achieve this can include:
• Use an image of one of the quilts from Gee’s Bend and write an ekphrastic poem about the quilt, imagining the history behind it.
• Consider your own story in terms of color, balance, contrast, or texture. How does it piece together?
• If you were to tell any story in a quilt, or defend a cause, what would it be like?
• Write to any form of inequality.
• Allow the story of the Gee’s Bends quilters to take you wherever you like.
• Choose any quilt, take a photo to include with your post, and tell us about it in poetry.
You may enjoy this article that appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine a while back, where you will find images of other quilts crafted by the women of Gee’s Bend.
Write your poem and post it on your blog.
Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.
Fill in your name and the direct URL access to your poem.
Visit the work of other participants and encourage them with your comments.
For dVerse Poetics, I am Victoria, thanking each of you for being a part of dVerse Poets’ Pub. Today I’ll be serving up all kinds of colorful mixed drinks: Limoncello, Blue Curacao, Pepto-Bismol… (A quilter, I’m not).