MANCHETSER, NH.- The Currier Museum of Art
recently acquired five Gees Bend quilts through a generous gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, in combination with museum funds. An exhibition of these quilts opened this week and are now on display.
In a small Black community just south of Selma, Alabama, several generations of women collectively developed a distinctive style of quiltmaking. The place is known as Gees Bend, after an angle in the Alabama River where a cotton plantation was once located. This shared artistic practice began before the Civil War and continues to this day. Gee's Bend quiltmakers recycled work clothes and other fabric remnants to create functional bed coverings adorned with abstract, geometric designs. The bright colors and bold shapes are strikingly innovative, and, despite the community's relative isolation, some quilts portend the improvisational style of abstract art and modern jazz.
These quilts are the first major objects by artists from the African American South to enter the Currier Museums permanent collection. They represent rich and diverse artistic styles tied to the American South and the economic importance of cotton production during the pre- and post-Emancipation periods. As centers for textile production in the 19th century, the mill towns of New Hampshire profited from the low costs of cotton and other materials dependent on the labor of enslaved peoples in the South especially Manchester, which was once home to the largest cotton mill in the world.
The exhibition also features historic quilts from New Hampshire and contemporary works of art, including a painted quilt by the celebrated artist Faith Ringgold, who draws upon the rich tradition of Black quilt-making.