She Knew Where She Was Going: Gee's Bend Quilts and Civil Rights

From November 22, 2020 — March 20, 2021

5f84433fe9e57 She Knew Where She Was Going: Gee's Bend Quilts and Civil Rights she-knew-where-she-was-going-gee-s-bend-quilts-and-civil-rights /images/exhibitions/large/110-03_o2-1.jpg /images/exhibitions/large/110-03_o2-1.jpg Image: Nell Hall Williams. Blocks and Strips. 1971. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership; and purchase with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., BMA 2020.35. © 2020 Nell Hall Williams / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image Courtesy Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio 1 2020-11-22T00:00:00-05:00 2021-03-20T00:00:00-05:00

Gee’s Bend, Alabama, is home to generations of extraordinary Black craftswomen whose quilts represent a crucial chapter in the history of American Art. Since the mid-1800s, women of Gee’s Bend have transformed worn clothes, sacks, and other fabric remnants into patterns that surpass the boundaries of the genre. Born out of necessity, the quilts provided warmth for family and friends while bearing witness to shared knowledge passed down among quilting groups and female lineages. But, in 1966, at the height of Civil Rights activism, the quilters transformed their artistic practice into collective action by founding the Freedom Quilting Bee. This cooperative championed the vision and production of Gee’s Bend quilters in national auctions and commercial partnerships, empowering the quilters and reworking systems of American quilting.

With the support of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership, the BMA has purchased five quilts by Gee’s Bend artists including, Diamond in Square by Pearlie Irby Pettway (American, c. 1898–1955); Four-block Strip by Loretta Pettway (American, b. 1942); Blocks and Strips by Nell Hall Williams (American, b. 1933); Chestnut Bud by Lucy Mingo (American, b. 1931); and Housetop by Lucy T. Pettway (American, 1921–2004). Four of the recently acquired works will be on view in the Berman Textile Gallery in the American Wing.

Souls Grown Deep is dedicated to promoting the work of Gee’s Bend artists and African American artists from the South and supporting their communities by fostering economic empowerment, racial and social justice, and educational advancement.

Curated by Brittany Luberda, Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts with Stella Hendricks, Souls Grown Deep Foundation Intern.

The exhibition is supported by the Estate of Margaret Hammond Cooke and The Jean and Allan Berman Textile Endowment Fund.

Gee’s Bend, Alabama, is home to generations of extraordinary Black craftswomen whose quilts represent a crucial chapter in the history of American Art. Since the mid-1800s, women of Gee’s Bend have transformed worn clothes, sacks, and other fabric remnants into patterns that surpass the boundaries of the genre. Born out of necessity, the quilts provided warmth for family and friends while bearing witness to shared knowledge passed down among quilting groups and female lineages. But, in 1966, at the height of Civil Rights activism, the quilters transformed their artistic practice into collective action by founding the Freedom Quilting Bee. This cooperative championed the vision and production of Gee’s Bend quilters in national auctions and commercial partnerships, empowering the quilters and reworking systems of American quilting.

Image: Nell Hall Williams. Blocks and Strips. 1971. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership; and purchase with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., BMA 2020.35. © 2020 Nell Hall Williams / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image Courtesy Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio