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Mon April 21, 2008
Quilters of Gee's Bend
A new play about the quilters of Gee's Bend is playing this month in Kansas City, and last week, KCUR's Susan Wilson had the chance to talk to the quilters on whose lives the play was based on.
By Susan Wilson
Kansas City, MO – A few years ago, not a lot of people had heard of Gee's Bend. It's an economically impoverished community at a sharp bend of the Alabama River, roughly 30 miles southwest of Selma. But many museum curators and art critics agree that the quilters of Gee's Bend have turned out what The New York Times called "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced." A new play about the quilters of Gee's Bend is playing this month in Kansas City, and last week, KCUR's Susan Wilson had the chance to talk to the quilters on whose lives the play was based on.
To say that the quilts of Gee's Bend are not your average patchwork quilt would be an understatement. The vibrant colors, graphic composition, and bold geometric patterns represent a quilting style that's been called "improvisational." They're like jazz - the quilts reverberate with African rhythms and art forms. The quilts were long overlooked. But for the past five years, they've been displayed in museums nation-wide, notably the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The quilts and their creators have been the subject of books, documentaries and now a play.
Mary Lee Bendolph and China Pettway were in town recently to participate in a round table discussion of their work as a part of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's production of the play Gee's Bend, which runs through April 27, 2008.
Also joining us is Matt Arnett. He and his father William Arnett research and collect African American art of the Deep South. They have played a key role in getting the arts establishment to recognize and respect the artists of Gee's Bend.