Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor
This exhibition takes a fresh look at the quilting traditions in the community of Gee's Bend, Alabama, introducing new artists and motifs in works dating from the early twentieth century through 2005. Presented are approximately seventy-four extraordinary quilts that demonstrate how the artists play upon the structure or "architecture" of traditional quilt patterns. Each quilt is unique, yet shares a common visual vocabulary with others made in Gee's Bend. With newly discovered work from the 1930s to the 1980s, as well as more recent designs by established quiltmakers and the younger generation they have inspired, the exhibition documents the development of key patterns—such as housetop, courthouse steps, flying geese, and strip quilting—through outstanding examples.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston • June 4–September 4, 2006
Indianapolis Museum of Art • October 8–December 31, 2006
Orlando Museum of Art • January 28–May 13, 2007
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore • June 17–August 26, 2007
Tacoma Art Museum • September 22–December 9, 2007
The Speed Art Museum, Louisville • January 2–March 23, 2008
Denver Museum of Art • April 13–July 6, 2008
Philadelphia Museum of Art • September 16–December 14, 2008
Quilt Stories: The Ella King Torrey Collection of African American Quilts and Other Recent Quilt Acquisitions includes thirteen examples by leading Southern quiltmakers. The collection was formed between 1981 and 1983 while Ms. Torrey was conducting fieldwork on African American quiltmaking with Maud Southwell Wahlman. captures the richness of the rural landscape of Gee's Bend as well as the strong sense of community forged by the women who are carrying on the quilt-making tradition there.
Named after Joseph Gee, the first white man to settle in the area in the early 1800s, the community is home to some seven hundred residents, many of who are descendents of the slaves who worked Gee's plantation (sold to his relative, Mark Pettway, in 1845). After emancipation many freed slaves took the name Pettway and continued to make their living off the land as tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Quiltmaking had always been a domestic responsibility for the women of the community, and had always been considered as well as a form of personal expression. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke in Gee's Bend in 1965; shortly after, many residents attempted to register to vote. Those who marched were sent to jail, fired from their jobs, and often lost their homes. The Freedom Quilting Bee was organized in 1966, and the townswomen subsequently earned income by creating quilts sold at large department stores such as Bloomingdale's, Saks, and Sears. The quilts in this exhibition are drawn from the collection of the Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta, a nonprofit foundation for the support of African American vernacular art founded by William Arnett. Arnett first traveled to Gee's Bend, a small and isolated rural community situated on a peninsula on the Alabama River, in 1997 in search of Annie Mae Young, whose quilt he had seen in Roland Freeman's book on African American quilters, Communion of the Spirit.
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta.
This exhibition is supported by a MetLife Foundation Museum and Community Connections grant, by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and by The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Education and community outreach programs are funded by The Delphi Project Foundation, Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, the Connelly Foundation, Paul K. Kania, and Lynne and Harold Honickman. Promotional support is provided by NBC 10 WCAU and The Philadelphia Tribune.
Dilys Blum • Curator of Costume and Textiles