This weekend I finally dropped in to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the exhibition Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South. In 2014, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation began transferring a majority of the 1,000 artworks in their collection to permanent collections around the world. Last year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired some of the famous Gee’s Bend quilts as well as sculpture. This exhibition showcased some of these new acquisitions.
Gee’s Bend in Alabama is known for the quilts made there in the early twentieth century through to today. These artworks are expressive and unique, using scraps of fabric and clothing, patchworks hand-stitched into bed-sized quilts. Many of the quilts in the exhibit are online, so I’ll link to those better quality images.
Pettway was inspired to make this quilt by her stepmother who had created a “crazy” quilt from old pants. There are quite a few Pettway quilters. The Bennett family, including Delia (left) were also prolific and related by marriage to Pettways. Below is Delia’s 1955 Housetop Fractured Medallion Variation.
Nettie Young’s Milky Way (1971) is part of the Freedom Quilting Bee. Young was a co-manager of the bee and this quilt is an example of the commercialization of the Gee’s Bend quilts. While this quilt is personal, the design is reflective of the contract the bee had with Bloomingdale’s. The department store design a quilt of circles and squares, then commissioned the bee to produce it. These may have been leftover elements from that design.
Right next door to this exhibition was The Art of Collage and Assemblage, a theme that fits will with the Gee’s Bend quilts. One of the pieces is Charlie Logan’s Man’s “Diamond Sis” Coat (1978-84). Logan, often homeless and sick in Alton, Illinois, wore embellished garments like this one. Found objects such as buttons and photos are stitched right in to the jacket.