Gee’s bend is a small isolated rural community that sits on the Alabama River. It is surrounded on three sides by the river nearly cutting it off from the rest of the world. It was founded in antebellum times and was the site of many cotton plantations. The residents of Gee’s Bend first worked as slaves and then as tenant farmers. This tightly knit society was so removed from the rest of the world it came to be called "Alabama Africa.”
Gee's Bend takes its name from Joseph Gee, who was the first white man to gain control of property in the 1800s. In 1845 Gee sold his plantation to Mark Pettway and about 750 people in Gee's bend are direct descendants of the slaves that worked on the Pettway property. As they worked on as tenant farmers many bought the farms from the government in the 1940s. It was During the Great Depression, the federal government commissioned a series of photographs of Gee's Bend. These images by photographers like Marion Post Wolcott and Arthur Rothstein, have become some of the most famous images of Depression-era American life.
The women of this small rural black community produced hundreds of quilt masterpieces. Due to their remoteness the Gee's Bend women created a distinctive bold way of quilting. They used whatever fabric they had and created a quilting style the represents the Gee's Bend quilt today. Their quilting style contrasted with the ordered carefully laid out quilts of American and European quilting styles. Their quilts took on a improvisational and brilliant look, geometric in design and often resembling Amish quilts. Some historians see a resemblance to leading 20th century painters in their composition and their choice of colors. Luckily these women passed their skills onto six generations which can also be seen in present day.
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Items in the Central Library's collection on the Quilts and Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend