The Gee’s Bend quilting community came to William Arnett’s attention in the 1990s when he noticed extraordinary quilts hanging on fences in the small isolated community of Gee’s Bend in eastern Alabama. The quilters lived lives of cultural isolation, racism, and poverty. Even so, they made beauty out of the scraps of cloth they used to make quilts for the practical need to keep their families warm. As outsiders from the world around them, they created their own designs and standards of beauty. Their primary sources were families, stories, leftover clothes, and the textures of their lives of poverty, transforming them into design improvisations that were unique to this particular group of people in this particular location. By 2002, these quilts became a new sensation in the art world when presented as The Quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Whitney Museum of Art in NYC.
That exhibit and others of their work have continued to be presented at other major museums, including the Milwaukee Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, the Frist Center of Visual Arts, and others. In 2003, The Arts Company presented an exhibition of their quilts, and a few years later, hosted 75 quilters and friends from Gee’s Bend on their way to the Milwaukee Museum of Art for an exhibit. Books, films, videos, and articles on the quilts and quilters have been published in the last 10 years, and more recently, several of the quilters traveled to California where they produced limited-edition etchings of their work.