Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Praises for Gee's Bend!

Before my recent visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I was familiar with the stories and reproductions of the quilts of Gee's Bend. As a quilter myself, I thought I knew what I was talking about. Seeing them in reality, however, was a completely different story.

These are not traditional, geometrically symmetrical quilts that I have been exposed to in the past. These quilts have an edgy, unpredictable quality. They defy the typical logic imposed on art students in art schools because they are not the work of "art school artists." The quilters of Gee's Bend have not had the "rules" imposed on them, so their work is unhindered by any legacy or ego except their own. These quilts stand as a testament for the human need for visual expression, further evidence that art is not only something we do for baseless decoration, it is a necessary impulse of the human condition.

The patterns and shapes have an energetic, almost musical feel. Another thing to appreciate is their use, or re-use, of material. Jeans, corduroy, scraps and fragments of their lives merge into quilted narratives. In the exhibition text, several women are quoted, saying that despite their success and ability to purchase unused fabrics, they prefer to make use of material that would otherwise be thrown away. To paraphrase the exhibition text, they state that such material has a greater spirit, a sense of soul, and this presence is reborn in their quilts.

Whatever their secret is, Gee's Bend, The Architecture of the Quilt, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art till December 14, offers viewers a chance to see magnificence. More than anything, it is a portrait of humanity. The quilts reveal to everyone our basic need to tell our stories, to express ourselves, and to transcend all logic and reason to unveil soul.

Above Photo: Blocks and Strips Quilt, 2003
Ruth Kennedy, American
86 x 75 inches (218.4 x 190.5 cm)
Collection of the Tinwood Alliance
Photo: Steve Pitkin, Pitkin Studio, Rockford, IL

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