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Historic quilts of Gee’s Bend to be featured at the Nevada Museum of Art

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

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Distinctive and original works of art complete with compelling histories, A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts will be on display at the Nevada Museum of Art Feb. 6 through April 11. Showcasing the creativity of a group of exceptional African-American women from a small, rural community in Alabama, A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts offers a fascinating look into the lives of the quilters and their art while exploring the inspiration and future of this unique quilting tradition.

Consisting of nearly 30 quilts, A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts spans more than 70 years of quilting by the women of Gee’s Bend, a community of just 700 residents located at a hairpin bend on the Alabama River. Comprising almost exclusively descendants of the enslaved workers of Joseph Gee’s cotton plantation, the area is surrounded on three sides by a river–with only a single road in and out–leading to the development of a distinctive local culture and quilt aesthetic. The innovative pattern variations and abstract designs—all of which are rooted in tradition—are the quilters’ own artistic expressions inspired by everyday events such as walking to the local store, visiting neighbors’ homes and riding the bus.

The quilts of Gee’s Bend are made from everyday fabrics: corduroy, denim, cotton sheets and well-worn clothing. Most of the quilts are of the type known as piece, strip or patchwork, yet their vibrant color schemes and abstract compositions vary widely from the ordered regularity associated with traditional Western quiltmaking. A longstanding tradition passed down since pre-Civil War times, the quilts of Gee’s Bend were once the products of thrift and necessity assembled from discarded fabric scraps and created to be piled on beds to keep families warm at night.

“The Nevada Museum of Art is very pleased to present this exhibition highlighting a pivotal chapter in the history of African American art,” said David B. Walker, executive director and CEO of Nevada Museum of Art. “These quilts, which brought international prominence to the community of Gee’s Bend, also bring with them a strong historical significance and storytelling traditions that will connect with families across all cultures. A wide range of educational and social programs have been developed for this exhibition to allow guests to interact fully with the fabrics and techniques, the history and traditions and even the quilters themselves.”

The exhibition also gives a firsthand look into the lives and thoughts of the quiltmakers through photographs, music and the quilters’ own narratives in a special video produced by Tinwood Alliance. Guests will also have the chance to meet two of the quiltmakers, Louisiana Bendolf and China Pettway, during the opening weekend, Feb. 5 through 7.

The quilts were first featured in 2002 at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston where they were hailed as hailed as works of art, distinct in their origination and conception, and lauded in The New York Times as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.” Since then the quilts have traveled across the country to numerous venues including the Whitney Museum in New York City, the de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Seeing their quilts in a museum at the 2002 premiere of the exhibition Quilts of Gee’s Bend at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston inspired many of the quilters to reengage in their community’s long-standing tradition. What was becoming a dying art—with few quilts produced between the late 1980s and 2002—entered a renaissance among prolific quilters and their children. Today, the quilters are free to explore their creativity as artists and not merely as homemakers.

This exhibition is organized by the Tinwood Alliance of Atlanta, a non-profit foundation established by William Arnett for the support of African-American vernacular art. Major sponsorship is provided by the Nevada Museum of Art Volunteers In Art.

The galleries are open Wednesday through Sunday. Cost: Museum members free; $10 adults; $8 students/seniors; $1 children 6–12; free for children under six. For more information, please call 775.329.3333 or visit www.nevadaart.org.

Public Programs

A series of educational and social programs have been developed to accompany this exhibition:

Quilting Demonstration with the Quilters of Gee’s Bend
Saturday, Feb. 6, 10:30 am

Learn how the Gee’s Bend quilting tradition lives on. As part of the programs surrounding the premiere of A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts, two Gee’s Bend quilters will demonstrate their quilting process and discuss the craft and style of the Gee’s Bend quilt traditions. Cost: $10/$8 museum members

Telling Stories, Sharing Quilts: The Lore of the Local Quilt
Saturday, Feb. 6, 1 p.m.

Local quilters share the stories and the art of quilts made by members of our community. Quilts will be displayed individually during the program, and photographs will be taken of local quilters with their creations. Can’t join the program? Upload a photograph of your own quilt to our quilt group on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/[email protected]/ and share your story about it online. Cost: $10/$8 museum members

Piecing with Gee’s Bend Quilters
Sunday, Feb. 7, 1pm

Piecing in the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition is a highly personal design and composition process. Learn how the Gee’s Bend piecing process differs from other quilting traditions, and begin piecing your own quilt’s design in this intimate class. Limited to eight participants. Cost: $75/$60 museum members

Julie Silber on A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts
Friday, March 12, noon

Women’s quilting traditions have been the primary interest of curator Julie Silber for more than 40 years. Join us for a look at the intertwining of women’s history and quilt making with this renowned quilt expert.

Guided tours
Guided Tours for A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts are free with admission on Thursday at 6 p.m. (except First Thursdays) and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Reservations are not needed. Spanish language tours can be arranged by calling 775.329.3333 ex. 253.

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