Known for bold, improvisational designs and use of recycled fabrics, Gee’s Bend’s patchwork quilting tradition — which began in the 19th Century — continues to this day. Gee’s Bend quilts constitute a crucial chapter in the history of American art and today are in the permanent collections of over 30 leading art museums.
The residents of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, are direct descendants of the enslaved people who worked the cotton plantation established in 1816 by Joseph Gee. After the Civil War, their ancestors remained on the plantation working as sharecroppers. In the 1930s, the price of cotton fell, and the community faced ruin. As part of its Depression-era intervention, the Federal Government purchased ten thousand acres of the former plantation and provided loans enabling residents to acquire and farm the land formerly worked by their ancestors. Unlike the residents of other tenant communities, who could be forced by economic circumstances to move — or who were sometimes evicted in retaliation for their efforts to achieve civil rights — the people of the Bend could retain their land and homes. Cultural traditions like quiltmaking were nourished by these continuities.