Abstract Inspiration from the Quilts of Gee’s Bend

 

“Our lives are like quilts – bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love.” ~ Author Unknown

watercolor-and-collage-workshopFor a few months now I have been exploring abstract painting. I discovered that I am particularly interested in combining watercolour painting and collage.  I have gotten a lot of support and encouragement from my instructor Gareth Bate and gleaned many ideas from books by Gerald Brommer like Collage Techniques and Watercolor and Collage Workshop.  I went to a specialty shop to buy the genwashi and kozuke papers I needed for staining them with watercolour paint.  Though my first effort was fairly rudimentary – my piece looked like a lopsided quilt made with a simple pinwheel pattern – I learned a lot about this technique, and now feel ready to try something more ambitious.  Gareth asked me if I had ever heard of the quilts of Gee’s Bend.  I had not, so I did an internet search and discovered not only some images of these gorgeous quilts but also an interesting DVD called Why Quilts Matter (which includes a segment on Gee’s Bend).  In addition to learning about the rich history of quilting I found a source of inspiration for future painting projects.  I look forward to starting my next stained paper quilt!

In the midst of all of this I found a lovely picture book by ???????????????????????????????Patricia C.McKissack called Stitchin’ and Pullin’ a Gee’s Bend Quilt.  Illustrated with vibrant paintings by Cozbi A. Cabrera, this book is the story about quilting as an art, as a community and family tradition, and as a chronicle of history.  It is written in lyrical prose from the perspective of a child waiting to be old enough to be taught how to make her first quilt.  She listens as friends and family converse and sing; she watches while women repurpose old clothes, preserving the personal stories associated with each garment; she learns how different colours communicate certain feelings; she sees how assembling the pieces creates “a poem with fabric” and that quilting brings people together.  She also learns about important historical events and people that shaped and influenced the residents of Gee’s Bend (e.g., the march from Selma, the Freedom Quilting Bee, and Dr. Martin Luther King) and how these events were often reflected in the quilts made there.

image-from-stitchin-and-pullinI found the introduction, written by Matt Arnett, and the author’s note very interesting.
These showed how research on the art of southern African American artists intersected with an author’s efforts to live the experience of those who would be reflected in her book by residing there for a while and being taught how to quilt by Mrs. Mary Lee Bendolph. I really got a sense of the collective commitment to making the reading of this book a special and authentic experience. This was not simply an enjoyable book but one that taught me a lot about the history of Gee’s Bend and the tradition of quilting there and how those quilts gained public attention and deserved recognition as works of art.  McKissack writes, “Our lives are like quilts.  When all the bits and pieces of our remembered history are assembled, they become a link to the past and a beacon for future generations.”  The quilts of Gee’s Bend were a revelation to me.  I hope this book about them provides the inspiration for you that it has for me!

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