In 1998, art collector William Arnett saw a photograph of Annie Mae Young in Alabama with her great-granddaughter. Behind them were two quilts — one with a strikingly bold medallion of yellow, brown and red surrounded by a sea of denim blue — set to air out on a woodpile.
That striking quilt was the product of a generations-long tradition of quilting by the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a five-by-seven mile peninsula on the Alabama River, in the state’s so-called “Black Belt,” southwest of Montgomery, southeast of Selma.
The Gee’s Bend community lived in relative isolation for decades, the descendants of slaves from the area’s cotton plantations. They sewed their quilts from scraps of cloth –corduroy, denim workpants, feed sacks, and brightly colored rags. They sewed them for warmth and with astonishing beauty.
Now, the quilts of their rich tradition are being hailed by The New York Times as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced” and are traveling to museums across the country.
Tune in for a conversation with the Quilters of Gee’s Bend.
Mary Lee Bendolph, 69-year-old Gee’s Bend quilter
Annie Mae Young, 75-year-old Gee’s Bend quilter
William Arnett, collector who discovered the Gee’s Bend quilters and head of the Tinwood Alliance Foundation based in Atlanta, GA.