The Cottage Orné Quilt

The Cottage Orné Quilt
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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Gees Bend and Cassandra Ellis

I have made another discovery through the Needleprint blog - Cassandra Ellis who makes commissioned memory quilts.  I love her blog and her philosophy and she says that one of her influences is the work of Gees Bend!

As you can see from the above, Gees Bend quilts make great images which grab attention, but I am rather uncomfortable about the whole Gees Bend phenomenon.  I'm not sure why, it's probably because when something becomes the thing to admire, I am suspicious.

Some of you will have seen these quilts on exhibition, I have not, so I have absolutely no idea of their quality.  Are they well made?  Do they work as quilts, as presumably they were made as quilts even though now they are treated as art?  How do you feel that they are now so revered?

Cassandra Ellis makes commissioned quilts using fabric that has personal meaning to her customers.  She also does workshops encouraging her students to bring and use their own fabric collection, especially if the pieces are meaningful to them.  She believes in re-cycling fabric as it adds a another dimension to the work produced.  She is making a stand against the commercialism of the quilting industry and I am all for that.

I admire her approach which is to enthuse and encourage people to cross boundaries and make something very personal.  I wish I could, but after years making patchwork by hand I can't switch to the sewing machine and do improvised piecing.  My patchwork is not free and easy and I am terrified of doing "lumpy" work - a word my dear late friend Gill Thompson used to categorise below standard workmanship.

This brings me back to my questions about Gees Bend and their quality.  If they are made to be quilts they should be judged by quilt making standards.  Viewing them as art is just confusing everything and denigrating quilt making.  I should love to know what you think?


bernie said...

I have seen the quilts when they were displayed at the Art Museum in Denver Colorado. The quilts, like the ladies who made them, varied in quality, I am sure sewing skills were varied as well, but my understanding was that they were originally made to be "utility" quilts. Quilts which were made in a small, somewhat secluded community using what they had on hand. Some of them were quite beautiful, though I guess not in the traditional style. I do remember one of the quilters was very traditional and took care that her quilts were not used too much so that their condition was near perfect. I found them inspirational as well, very creative. Bernie

Meredith said...

I would love to see the look on your face when you see them in person. Actually I think I would pay to see it. I saw them in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston back in 2005.

Lynne said...

I am a complete traditionalist and feel that many so called 'contemporary quilts' are in fact just stitch art and not in the true spirit of a 'quilt'. Just because they have wadding and backing and have been 'quilted', it doesn't make them quilts! This is simply my personal opinion here. I really don't like the ones above.

Robin said...

I have only viewed these quilts online and in books. I think they are a wonderful example of quilt history. They don't compare in quality to finely pieced, appliqued, and hand quilted quilts done by seasoned quilters. But, they have a niche all the same. I would never make one because precision is too important to me. In spite of that, they have a naive artistic quality to them that is pleasant to see.

MARCIE said...

As Robin said, I would never make a Gees Bend quilt and I think it is funny to see people in the industry running to commercialize the idea. What I admire is the grit and determination those women had to create out of whatever they had. They developed their own style and it suited them. Many of the quilts are made from old work clothes. They didn't set out to create art, they set out to keep warm! I like seeing their work recognized for the historical value.

Anonymous said...

I love Marcie’s comment, it speaks for me too. I like hearing about the social history of craft, and the stories of the people in Gee’s Bend making the most of any fabric that came their way for the patchwork, and then getting together as a group to do the quilting.

It reminded me if the first commentary I read about American patchwork and quilts, which was Laura Ingalls Wilder writing about her mother making a patchwork quilt from scraps from their calico dresses, and creating the quilt with feathers from ducks that her father hunted for dinner.