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Southern Selections
~~Deep South Book Reviews~~

by Augusta Russel Scattergood

( Tinwood Books, in association with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2002 )

Gee's Bend is situated on a bend at the base of the Alabama River, about 30 miles southwest of Selma. This small African-American community first became known for its quilts during the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s when the Freedom Quilting Bee was organized. Women who'd lived in Gee's Bend all their lives sat on porches and pieced together quilts out of worn denim work clothes, scraps of material saved, begged and borrowed, and occasionally a bolt of new fabric purchased on the rare trip outside their isolated community. They made these quilts as a diversion from long days working in the fields, as a personal expression of their art, or just to sew warm bed covering.

Sadly, the tradition of passing this craft down in the family from mother to daughter to granddaughter seemed to be dying out. Few quilters remained in Gee's Bend. The Tinwood Alliance, a foundation based in Atlanta, recognized the genius of these exceptional women and recently began collecting and preserving the quilts.

An exhibit currently traveling to museums across the country and this book, a catalogue to accompany the exhibit, have sparked a resurgence of interest within the community. A few second and third generation quilters whose predecessors created the vibrant art forms showcased in THE QUILTS OF GEE'S BEND are now returning to their quilting roots.

In 1999, Mensie Lee Pettway described the way she creates her quilts: "There's so many different ways to build a quilt. It's like building a house . . . Ought not two quilts ever be the same. You might use exactly the same material, but you would do it different."

The book is a treasure. In addition to the stunning full-page color reproductions of the quilts, the words of their makers resonate from the pages. An in-depth history of the community, combined with historical photographs, document this tiny part of Alabama and bring the art form to life.

For a review of the exhibit, visit Milwaukee Art Museum's site: Quilt Exhibit.

For anyone interested in quilting, abstract art, southern history, or just plain breath-taking beauty, this oversized book belongs on your coffee table. And don't miss the opportunity to see the exhibit of these quilts of Gee's Bend.


Mississippi native Augusta Scattergood writes monthly reviews for USADS. Readers may write her at gsgood@yahoo.com

Enjoy more of Gusty's USADS book reviews:
Beth Boswell Jacks's Snippets
Sela Ward's Homesick: A Memoir
Rick Bragg's All Over But The Shoutin'
Carl Hiassen's Hoot
Louise Shaffer's The Three Miss Margarets
Lewis and Peacock'sThe Gift of Southern Cooking
New Stories from the South
Bobbie Ann Mason's Clear Springs

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