The Gee’s Bend Quilt Mural Trail

I’ve talked about barn quilts, which I just learned about this year, and a new trend that I am seeing starting are barn quilt trails. These are noted ‘trails’ that take people from one barn quilt to the next, typically as a way to promote agricultural tourism.

Quilt 1- ‘Medallion with Checker Board Center’

Patty Ann Williams, 1898-1972

And I’ve talked about Gee’s Bend. There aren’t many barns in Gee’s Bend, but there is a Quilt Trail! This quilt trail was established in 2007-2008. The quilts are painted by Tyree McCloud on wood and they are about the size of a traditional barn quilt. But instead of being hung on a barn, these are placed around Gee’s Bend close by the homes or home sites where the quilts were made.

Quilt 2- ‘Blocks and Stripes’

Annie Mae Young, 1928-

Yesterday, You might have noticed the stamp poster that I was standing in front of with Mary Ann Pettway at the Quilt Collective. This commerative stamp set was issued in 2006 and these stamps are the inspiration for the Gee’s Bend Quilt Trail!

Quilt 3- ‘Pig in a Pen’ Medallion

Minnie Sue Coleman, 1926-

Quilt 4- ‘Housetop- Four- Blocks. Half Log Cabin’ variation

Lottie Mooney, 1908-1992 

Quilt 5- ‘Medallion’

Loretta Pettway, 1942-

Quilt 6- ‘Housetop’

Mary Lee Bendolph, 1935- 

Quilt 7- ‘Nine Patch’

Ruthy Mosely, 1926- 

Quilt 8- ‘Roman Stripes’ variation or Crazy Quilt

Loretta Pettway, 1942-

Quilt 9- ‘Bars and String- Pieced Columns’

Jessie T. Pettway, 1929- 

Ok, I have to be honest… I was super excited to visit Gee’s Bend, but there’s really nothing else there except the Collective. I mean people live there, so there are homes, but in the way of anything else to do… Nothing… Except driving around finding each and every one of the  wooden quilts on the trail!

They arent’ that easy to find. Most of them are, but there’s a few down different little streets. And I kept turning us around, go this way, go that way, let’s try this road… There were a couple of people hanging out on this one corner and I think we drove by them about 5 times! They probably thought we were crazy! So I kept trying to find roads we could take so we wouldn’t have to keep driving by them while we were exploring, but despite my best efforts, we kept ending up right back at that corner!

Quilt 10- ‘Chinese Coins’ variation

Alonzia Pettway, 1923- 

My Adventure to Gee’s Bend!

Ok, did you think I’d already told you about my southern adventures? Did you think I was done?? Ha! Nope! Not yet! There’s more….

You already know we went there, since I gave away the little quilted pot holder that I got there!

When we were planning the trip over, we had planned to take the quicker route, which would include the ferry ride across the river. If you look online, there are personal phone numbers listed for one of the quilters for more information. But I hated to call her, who knows how many people call her at home! (or so I thought) So instead I called this gallery that sells some of their work in the town of the ferry terminal. They said of course take the ferry and reassured me that it was ok to call her on her personal line. So I did and she was funny and said there’s no reason to take the ferry! So the ride took a little longer, but was way less stressful trying to catch the ferry on time!!

We made it there and our first stop was the ferry terminal in Gee’s Bend where the quilters are all set up. But I guess I got there right at lunch and they kinda seemed surprised that I showed up! There were a few quilting and I sat down with them for a minute, but I had this uncomfortable feeling of interrupting something. So one of the ladies sent me on down the road to the collective! She said, ‘You go out here and then turn right at the house with the blue trashcan. then you’ll see it next to the old firehouse building.’ I repeated it back a couple of times, “The house with the blue trashcan??’ Yes, she said. So off we go… The kicked… Every house has a blue trashcan! Luckily there’s basically only one main road that loops through the little town and we just followed the road around and there it was. Here was where I found the love!!!

Here I met Mary Ann Pettway! She welcomed us in, showed us around and gave my son some peaches! He loved them and he won’t eat the ones I give him….  hmmmm… She was great and just let us look around and chatted with me about quilting. Of course I had tons of questions, but once we got there I was star struck and I lost it all! I couldn’t think of a single question to ask!

One thing she did mention about some of the Gee’s Bend quilters is that they don’t cut, they rip! I’ve tried to get the freedom of piece sizes in a couple of my mini quilts, but once I start cutting I get straight lines, uniform pieces. But it makes sense, if you rip, you end up with pieces that aren’t necessarily the same size. ahhhh… Something I can’t wait to try!

I had a great time looking through the stacks and stacks of quilts for sale! I’ve always loved the corduroy ones and this is a sweet corduroy tied quilt by Mensie Pettway. I have to admit, this was on one of the first ones I looked at and remembered to get the artist name. The rest I got so excited I forgot to write down the names… If anyone reads this and knows the artists names, please let me know!!

My husband and I both agreed on our favorite quilt!! This one with the bright red and yellow corduroy by Mary Ann Pettway. As we were talking about it she just smiled and then I realized it was hers!! It was a bit out of our price range or we would have taken it home. Mary Ann let us know that they do do lay away, but unfortunately that was not helping me at this point!! 🙂

My other favorite, that was in our price range was another one by Mary Ann. This nice little green and white piece!

Here I am with my new quilt and the amazing quilter artist!

I’m not exactly sure what it is about this house one by Janice Pettway that I love, but I do! I got that one too…

Then of course, my son wanted one, so I let him pick from the least expensive pile. He picked his and then wanted me to pick another one. I told him that I already had my favorites, but he kept insisting that I needed another one. My next tactic was to blame it on Dad, so I told him that Dad said I could only have two. My son’s eyes got big and he said, ‘I’ll go talk to him. I’ll be right back!.’ So off he ran into the other room to work on Dad. Mary Ann and I just laughed and laughed together about this! As much as he tried, he didn’t get me another quilt!

But he did pick out a perfect sized pot holder for his kitchen, which even as he was playing with it the other day he kept referring to as his ‘quilt’!

When we came to visit AL a good family friend gave the book The Quilts of Gee’s Bend: Masterpieces from a Lost Place. As we were leaving I remembered it was in the car, grabbed it and ran back inside and had Mary Ann sign it for me. She signed inside, and then she also signed next to her mother’s quilt that is pictured in the book!

In response to my comments about wanting my quilting to be as free and dramatic as the Gee’s Bend quilts, Mary Ann’s parting words to me were, ‘Keep trying! Keep quilting!’

And that’s what I’ll do!

And check out this video from the loyal I’m Feelin’ Crafty reader Sarah, featuring my pal Mary Ann Pettway!!

Shared with these Link Parties!

A Teeny Tiny Intro to Gee’s Bend

Wow! Honestly, I thought if I know about Gee’s Bend, EVERYONE must know about Gee’s Bend! But not everyone does. So I’ll tell ya a little….

Annie Mae Young, born 1928. Strips, corduroy, ca. 1975, 95 x 105 inches 

I’ll start with a little about me… Ha! I got ya interested in Gee’s Bend, but I’m telling ya about me! hehehe… tricky, huh!

So I grew up in Southern AL, across the bay from Mobile, and my grandmother lived in the middle of AL in a little town called Marion. The back roads were the ones we took to get from one spot to the other. And on the way to my grandmother’s house, there was a sign for Gee’s Bend and maybe a ferry or something, I forget, but I always wondered what was there… Never went…

So fast forward like, 25 years… I had moved away from AL, started sewing… Seeing more and more quilts. But quilts always intimated me. I wondered how in the world anyone made them. Then my confusion got the best of me and I started really, actually looking at quilts. Not just in passing. Then it hit me! Um! Easy! You just sew little pieces together to make bigger pieces then you sew those bigger pieces together until it gets bigger and bigger… But, even though I had figured out how the quilts went together, still quilts kinda struck me as an old lady thing… Sorry, but it did.

Lillie Mae Pettway, 1927-1990. “Housetop”–twelve-block “Half-Logcabin” variation, ca. 1965, cotton, wool corduroy, 77 x 65 inches

Then I saw the Gee’s Bend quilts. It was one of those super Ah Ha! moments for me! It changed my whole perspective on quilting! Seriously! I’m not kidding! I forget the details of that moment, like where I was or if it was a book, a website, or what. But whatever it was, I was struck by the quilting bug! I fell in love and realized that quilts aren’t an old lady thing and they can be anything!!! After that it was all over! I became obsessed and my world was opened to the world of the Modern Quilt and all the bright awesome fabrics. Before I didn’t even imagine that some of the traditional patterns could be transformed into something bright and modern! I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before, but…

So, I have to say that these quilts from this tiny spot hidden away in Alabama is what brought me into the fold of quilters!

Florine Smith, born 1948, four-block strips, ca. 1975, corduroy, 68 x 81 inches.

OK, so back to the point here. Gee’s Bend!

Gee’s Bend is actually just that, a very small town tucked snugly away in a sharp bend of the Alabama River. It’s like a peninsula hidden away in the middle of the state.

image via Samford University Library 

The town is actually named Boykin, but it’s better known by the name Gee’s Bend. The settlement began as a plantation and the quilters began as slaves on the plantation and descendants of these people. The slaves were emancipated, the plantation was no longer, the plantation owners moved on, but the workers and their families stayed and this community has kept going ever since.

Annie Bendolph, 1900-1981. “Thousand Pyramids” variation, ca. 1930, cotton sacking and chambray, 83 x 70 inches

The quilts were made out of necessity from what they had, clothes, work clothes, dress clothes, food sacks, etc… Yes, this probably happened everywhere, right? But it’s the seclusion and the very tight sense of community and the passing down of the art from one generation to the next that makes Gee’s bend stand out among the rest. These things and the amazing sense of color and composition that was integrated into these utilitarian necessities.

Lucy Mooney, ca. 1880-1969. Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt, ca 1935, cotton, denim, wool, 87 x 68 inches.

I’ve read a couple of places that the quilters didn’t see their quilts as pieces of art! They certainly are in my eyes!

My favorites are the Corduroy Quilts! There was a period where some of the women worked in a nearby factory making corduroy pillows for Sears and they would bring home the scraps and make the most FANTASTIC quilts out of them!

Essie Bendolph Pettway, born 1956, multiple columns of blocks and bars, 1980, corduroy, 93 x 75 inches.

The community has been documented over the years for different reasons here and there, but it was in the 1990’s, from my understanding, when the quilts ‘were discovered’ and brought out of Gee’s Bend for the world to see. And for the world to collect! The quilts have been made over 100 years, but it’s only in the last 10 or 15 years that the quilts have made their way into the big fancy museums in NYC and San Francisco, etc….

Linda Pettway, born 1929, “Housetop” — eight-block variation, ca. 1975, corduroy, 86 x 71 inches

Like I said at the beginning, this is just a little… I’m no expert on the history of Gee’s Bend or their ‘discovery’! So please, go to your library and check out all the books they have on them and read about this great discovery story! There is soooooo much more to the story than I can write about here.

Sue Willie Seltzer, born 1922. “Housetop” — nine-block “Half-Logcabin” variation, ca 1955, cotton and synthetic blends, 80 x 76 inches.

All the quilt pictures in this post are courtesy of Tinwood Media via Auburn University’s The Quilts of Gee’s Bend in Context

And lastly, did you sign up to win the Gee’s Bend Giveaway?

Or the Steel Quilt Giveaway?

Friday is the last day!