Looking Back: Gee’s Bend Quilts

Randomly opening Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt, takes me to a page with an image of an asymmetrical quilt overflowing with indigo, magenta and crimson polyester squares stacked on top of each other. The artist/ maker is Irene Williams, born in 1920. Like all of the women featured in this extensive catalog, Williams is among a group of rich quiltmakers whose experimental, bold and rich quilts were presented in an extensive traveling exhibition. This exhibition, The Quilts of Gees’s Bend, premiered here in Houston at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2002, and then to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the other museums on its twelve-city American tour.

Annie Mae Young, strips, corduroy, ca. 1975, 95 x 105 inches

“…some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced… The best of these designs, unusually minimalist and spare, are so eye-poppingly gorgeous that it’s hard to know how to begin to account for them. But then, good art can never be fully accounted for, just described.” – Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times

I never viewed any of the exhibitions or any of the quilts in person, and my recent purchase of the catalogue reminds of how much I wish I did. Nearly a decade later, I sit here with this publication and I’m astonished in the innovation, modernity and experimentation present in these works that could easily be dismissed as craft within the hierarchy of fine art. They seem to serve as a reminder that sometimes these rigid categories of contemporary, craft, avant-garde, etc. can sometimes restrict the artwork.

also by Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud

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2 responses to “Looking Back: Gee’s Bend Quilts”

  1. The Gees Bend Quilts influenced my painting primarily in the realm of color and later in the design of loose geometry. I als missed the first exhibition. At the second exhibition one of the oldest quilt where dyes had stained areas was breath taking. This year I also went to the Quilt museum in La Grange, watched stitch and visited Houston international quilt show. It is opening my mind to many unexplored cross overs.

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