Submitted by the San Juan Islands Museum of Arts
Considered to be the most important African-American cultural contribution to the history of art in the United States, the Quilts of Gee’s Bend are moving, powerful and abstract masterpieces. The show is curated by Annie Howell-Adams.
Several artists across many mediums have been invited to express their own dialogue with the women and work of Gee’s Bend in the summer exhibition at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, “Conversations With Gee’s Bend.” The exhibition opens on Friday, May 25 and continues until Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3.
Fifteen years ago, a breathtaking exhibit of quilts by African-American women toured the country. Visitors were galvanized by the bold use of color, the improvisational designs and the stories the quilts portrayed.
The women of Gee’s Bend succeeded in creating masterpieces of art, telling their stories of strength, faith, civil rights and a pride in an African heritage. Quilts made of necessity became something enduring and beautiful.
These quilters from the isolated rural community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama are descended from West African slaves. The remote geographical location isolated the community from outside influences. Families handed down traditions, quilt by quilt. The women were not considered artists by society’s standards. Their materials were often nothing more than worn out clothes.
Conversations with Gee’s Bend fills all three galleries at SJIMA in Friday Harbor, Washington. Art quilts from the Cargo Collection, the Ren Riley Collection and Gee’s Bend hang alongside contemporary works.
One artist, a hurricane survivor, uses salvaged building materials to create wooden art forms. Another uses clothing of a loved one to create a quilt expressing grief and healing. An internationally known artist from Ghana, Serge Attukwei Clottey uses his cut-up signature plastic jerry cans to bear witness to the effects of environmental damage and resource extraction.
With part of her collection permanently displayed at the Smithsonian Museum, Ren Riley, an avid quilter for 40 years, spends her days restoring, studying and exhibiting African-American textiles.
All the artists carry the 2018 theme “The Female Gaze: The Woman as Visionary and Creator” through the exhibition in an adventure of art: some traditional and some unconventional layering of their personal meaning in their work.
Invited artists come from Ghana, New Jersey, San Francisco, Seattle, Santa Fe, Atlanta, Gee’s Bend and the island community. The women of Gee’s Bend have inspired these many artists across the country to speak through their work, creating a visual dialog — a conversation with Gee’s Bend.
Local quilters Rainshadow Quilting Arts Guild and others, are providing quilts to several participating organizations and businesses to embrace the Town of Friday Harbor in a spirited Quilt Walk in support of the exhibition.
As part of SJIMA’s arts education programming, volunteers will host a gallery talk on June 13 by Greg Kucera whose Seattle gallery has held two exhibitions of Gee’s Bend quilts. Author and instructor Katie Pedersen will teach a workshop titled “Improvisational Quilting” on June 24. Laura Petrovich-Cheney will conduct a talk and hands-on workshop from 1-5 p.m., Aug. 19, where she will discuss her work and methods.
SJIMA is open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday-Monday. Admission is $10 and free for both members and those 18 and under. Mondays are pay-as-you-can days.