Today’s post will be late. I’m going to the Missouri Historical Society to see an exhibit on the Gee’s Bend quilters this afternoon. I’ll be back to tell you about it later today.
After I went to my knitting group this morning where I had to rip out part of what I knitted — joy! — I picked up my sister and we went to the Missouri Historical Society to see the Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee’s Bend Quilts, and Beyond.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of these quilts. They are not the pretty pieced quilts you usually see in quilt shows. They look much more like modern abstract art. The man who found and collected the quilts made the point, in a video presentation, that they are ART. The women who pieced them weren’t thinking of making art; they were making covers for their beds and hangings for the walls to keep out the cold wind.
The quilts are made from used cloth … scraps, old clothes, any cloth that could be recycled into a quilt. Sometimes when a quilt became old and worn, it was cut up and the fabric sewn into another quilt. At least one quilt was two-sided. The design was different on each side and I wondered if the pieced block back of the quilt was because there wasn’t enough fabric to make a “normal” quilt back as we think of them.
A very impressive part of the exhibit, for me, was the video which was playing on a loop. I found viewing that first helped me understand the quilt. One really impressed me. You could see that it was made from recycled jeans or overalls because you could see the seams that had been in the jeans. The story in the video which really touched me was that one quilter cut up all her husband’s clothes after he died and made a quilt. That way she could wrap up in it when she got to missing him. I was struck … as was the museum curator … that ALL his clothes only provided enough fabric for one quilt. I wonder how many quilts you could make from the things hanging in my closet?
A lot of the patterns were taken from what the women could see in their environment. A popular pattern was called Housetop which is meant to reflect the beams in the top of the house that the quilter would see when she lay in bed. This was not easily recognized by me. Reference was also made to the Log Cabin quilt pattern but I didn’t see any quilt made in that pattern. I think the reference meant that the quilts started from a square or piece in the center and then other strips or strings were added to it in a design determined by how much fabric the quilter had.
It’s not a large exhibit but it was a thought-provoking exhibit. The exhibit closes at the end of next week. As part of the closing events, some of the quilters will be in town. I hope to go again and actually meet some of them.