Alabama’s Gee’s Bend Quilts…by Pottery Barn?

Gees Bend Quilt by Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn is now selling Alabama artistry via it’s Museum Craft Collection and a line of Gee’s Bend-inspired quilts. Isn’t it interesting to note that a product made for years in an Alabama community center is “mainstream” through one of the nation’s largest retailers?

First, the Backstory: Gee’s Bend is a remote area in Alabama’s Black Belt that for years has been difficult to access except by ferry. Generations of women, most descendants of slaves, have been creating quilts based on African-American and traditional American styles.  A journalist from The New Yorker (why does it often take someone from “outside” to recognize the extraordinary?) wrote a documentary on the quilters over 30 years ago.

Then in 1983, the Birmingham Museum of Art exhibited photographs along with an oral history of Gee’s Bend and its quilters. This prompted new interest in their work and led to exhibits at the Whitney Museum and the Smithsonian, launching them to national recognition and even a commemorative stamp by the U.S. Postal Service.

I find it ironic that many of us are happy to furnish our homes with brand new Pottery Barn pieces, yet we probably have beautiful hand-me-downs and legacy objects of our own that we overlook. (Doesn’t every southern home have a few family-made quilts tucked into a closet?) Might we be more appreciative if we could see these things through another’s perspective? After all, the women of Gee’s Bend were selling their quilts for years with none of the fanfare that surrounds their work now. What artistry do we pass that is just as remarkable but yet undiscovered?

I hope the quilters of Gee’s Bend have a fabulous licensing program in place that rewards them for their work through sales by Pottery Barn or any other retailer. In the meantime, we moms need to take stock of the rich handiwork that surrounds us already, either from local artists or our own grandmothers. We don’t need to place an order to enjoy the craftsmanship of Alabama.

For local artistry, check out the following:

AlabamaGoods.com (products are also on sale at the Pepper Place General Store

Blackbelt Treasures – retail store located in Camden, AL but products are also available online.