Friday, February 28, 2014

Echoes of Gee's Bend -- February's She Made/She Made Reveal


Back in October, when I was doing a show in Northport, Alabama, I had the great fortune of reconnecting with the wonderful Therese Frank, who was at the show to visit, shop, and generally spread good cheer. After some shopping, she came back to my booth, handed me a little wrapped bundle, and said, "I just found a bunch of these, and I'm going to open the February She Made/She Made challenge to some extra people.  Wanna play?"  Well, heck yes, I wanna play!

What I found in the little bundle was this lovely, soulful little face, with the most wonderful expression imaginable. Doesn't she just look like she's been around long enough to have the world's wisdom in her heart, and the joy of life bubbling through her smile?





I lived in Alabama for fourteen years, and I got to know and to work with a number of fantastic folk artists from the region.  This little face felt like an embodiment and distillation of some of the African American artists whose work I came to know, particularly the women of Gee's Bend.
Gee's Bend, Alabama is an incredibly remote, tiny little town on a spit of land virtually surrounded by the Alabama River. The town is on land that used to be a cotton plantation, and the 750 or so people who still live there are descendants of the slaves that used to work there. The women of Gee's Bend have, for generations, made quilts from scraps of fabric that they had access to -- old flour sacks, worn out jeans, textiles ends from a nearby factory that upholstered furniture for Sears -- anything they could lay their hands on.

my inspiration quilt
These folk quilts were discovered by collectors and museum curators, and in the past decade or so, collections of the quilts have been shown at major museums around the country.  I saw an exhibition of them here in Louisville several years ago.  The lines are not necessarily straight, and the fabric mix is unorthodox, but the stitching is precise, the patterns are full of energy, and you can almost feel the love and pride each quilter put into a piece radiating from it. Their work is in museums and private collections, and the quilters are still active as the Gee's Bend Collective.

So, in tribute to the incredible ladies of Gee's Bend, I wanted to make my own quilt around the clay face, inspired particularly by the quilt above.





Using Tilas, seed beads, bugles, and a whole lot of improvisation, I created this bracelet, Echoes of Gee's Bend. I tried to mimic the blocks of bordering fabric that surround the squares of colors in the inspiration quilt.  I threw in a little bit of cream just like the quilter did.


I highly recommend that you check out the story and the work of the Pettways, the Youngs, the Bendolfs, and all of the other ladies of Gee's Bend here and here and here.  And you should also check out what the other participants in this She Made/She Made challenge have done with their clay faces.

Bobbie (you're here)

16 comments:

Alice said...

When I was with a group called the Bliss Guild-a place where women in business gathered to share tips and more, I did a post on the women of Gees Bend. It was a fascinating story, and one I will never forget.
What a beautiful piece you made to represent this wonderful story of survival and community.

Therese's Treasures said...

Bobbie, I just knew you were going to do something awesome with your face and you did not let me down. I love the quilts of Gees Bend and want one day to go and visit. Your take on the quilts is beautiful. Also your face looks like the face of the woman in one of the pictures. Thank you so much for taking up and participating in this challenge.
Therese

Tanya said...

Those quilts are fabulous and I can see how they inspired you. I love how your cuff mirrors the quilt and the little face in the middle is perfect!

CraftyHope said...

A tribute to the ladies of Gee's Bend is PERFECT for this challenge. This blows me away. I adore what you said about the face having 'the world's wisdom' and the way you've interpreted the clay face. Your beadwork is amazing as always, but your insight for this challenge is so touching!!

Alicia said...

Oh, wow, that's such a beautiful tribute. I had no idea about the history behind those folk quilts, thank you for sharing ~ I added on my list of 'read and learn' :)
The face is just perfect on the 'quilted' bracelet - I wonder how did you attach it to the base?
As this was my first time on your blog: it was very nice to 'meet' you!

Monique (A Half-Baked Notion) said...

Oh my, I remember reading about the Gee's Bend ladies in a quilting mag some years back, Bobbie... incredible art from material at hand :) I love the way you surrounded your gal's wistful face with the wonderful "blocks" and gave the whole piece such a folk art look. Beautiful job!

Janet Bocciardi said...

I love the story behind the bracelet and how perfect it is. It's as if she stepped out of that photo into your cuff.

Christine Altmiller said...

Oh my gosh, Bobbie! When I saw your title, I got so excited!!! My mom introduced me to the Gee's Bend Quilts a while back and I have gravitated toward that kind of quilting ever since (not making [never again will i make another quilt!], just appreciating). You knocked me out with this ~ what a perfect place for your Lady to be ~ beaming proudly in front of her quilt! Your interpretation is just so beautiful. You really FELT this challenge! I often thought of beadweaving some of the more recognizable quilt designs, either as inchies or as a bracelet. You did just that. Gorgeous, Bobbie. Gorgeous.

Shel said...

What a beautiful piece! And equally wonderful tribute - love this!

Becky Pancake said...

I enjoyed hearing the story of Gees Bend. The quilt bracelet is a very fitting tribute.

KJ said...

What a fabulous interpretation Bobbie.

Liz E said...

What a wonderful story. I love the fact that you did not bezel around the cab, you let it shine all on its own.

AntiquityTravelers said...

Bobbie I LOVED this post! What incredible rich history you've tapped into here and captured in your beautiful bracelet. This so reminds me of my grandmother. Her quilts had a more organic feel with bits and pieces of her life pulled in. You could see a bit of grandpa's pants, perhaps a few pieces from shirts she made for my brothers, or a dress I'd asked for. She was a wonderful seamstress and made clothes for us. But there was a deeper thing to this art form, a sense of reusing, and repurposing bits and pieces. And those pieces told a story .... just like your lady here. She looks like the curator of important stories, and she is simply lovely.

Skylar Bre'z said...

What a wonderful way to honor the history of Gee's Bend! And a perfect example of women's history, which starts today! Love the bracelet.

Karen Williams said...

What a fun bracelet and such a beautiful reinterpretation of the Gee's Bend Quilts and a tribute to their creators. Feels like its a story bracelet.

Toltec Jewels for Jewel School Friends said...

Fabulous post and bracelet! Your tribute to often marginalized American artists - African American women folk artists - brings right to center the very heart of community and sisterhood and strength: the Gee's Bend quilters and quilts, certainly American art at its best! I enjoyed every word and every bead you wisely placed to reflect the pattern of quilting blocks while celebrating the clay focal without changing it -- beadwork celebrating diversity in art, women of color, and our herstory in gorgeous postmodern brilliance! Bravo!