Why Gee’s Bend quilters are headed to Marfa
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The abstract quilts made by generations of women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, have lately received overdue recognition from the art world: exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a major acquisition from the Met and auction prices above $50,000. But this reverence had not translated into financial prosperity for many makers until recently, with non-profits Souls Grown Deep and Nest now working to help expand their opportunities.
A partnership with outerwear label Marfa Stance is part of this movement hoping to kick-start change. It has collaborated with 38 women from Gee’s Bend – aged between 19 and 86 – to produce a collection of clothing (jackets from $5,500) and quilts (from $2,500) that will be available to buy at C-Project in Los Angeles. Five people will also be given the opportunity to design a bespoke piece with Marfa Stance founder Georgia Dant and a Gee’s Bend quiltmaker. All profits will directly fund a Gee’s Bend community manager, hired to promote the artists and manage their craft as a commercial enterprise.
This strand of African-American art has been preserved by the Gee’s Bend quilters for more than 200 years. First made for warmth, and stitched using offcuts of fabric and clothing to create geometric designs never previously seen on quilts, the blankets continue to honour the ancestors of the rural hamlet – and their artistry, techniques and improvisational style shine.
Marfa Stance x Gee’s Bend quilt, from $2,500
Marfa Stance x Gee’s Bend jacket, from $5,500
“They’re not influenced by anyone else; their work is genuine, pure vision and identity,” says Georgia Dant. Yet despite the quilters’ geographic and social isolation, Dant sees parallels with Bauhaus: “It’s just so forward.”
Dant began by sending deadstock fabric to Alabama and proposing three colour palettes. “I suggested vibrant colours to reflect this new chapter,” she explains. Each blanket, the smaller examples of which will be framed and hung, features Marfa Stance’s signature onion-shaped quilting, and was hand-stitched on looms. Dant is so delighted with the outcome that she wants to continue the collaboration.
Quiltmaker Mary Margaret Pettway hopes the care invested in each piece is felt. “I want the world to know that if they have a Gee’s Bend quilt, it is made with love; that is the best we can do.”