In the small, remote, historically black community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, four generations of African American women produced patchwork quilts that elevated these practical forms into masterful works of intentional art. Born of resourcefulness and made with fabric scraps salvaged from worn-out clothes, these handmade quilts evolved into marvels of textile design. These interconnected artists, bound by geographic isolation and a shared history of enslaved ancestors, experimented with bold geometric shapes and an improvisational design technique that has likened to African art and the improvisational rhythms of jazz. Now widely displayed in museums around the world, the quilts of Gee’s Bend have become beloved, important chapter in the history of American art.

Behold five extraordinary examples of the work of quilt makers from Gee’s Bend quilt at NOMA. These works are recent acquisitions made possible through the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a community partnership dedicated to supporting African American artists from the South.

Work-clothes quilt

c. 2002

Mary Lee Bendolph

Denim and cotton

99 1/2 x 88 in.

Museum purchase, and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.171, © Mary Lee Bendolph/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio/Art Resource, NY

Stacked Bricks quilt

1928

Nettie Young

Cotton and corduroy

82 1/4 x 67 in.

Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.167, © Estate of Nettie Young/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio/Art Resource, NY

Strips quilt

c. 1955

Ella Bendolph

Corduroy, wool, nylon knot, cotton/polyester blend

83 x 71 in.

Museum purchase, and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.168., © Estate of Ella Bendolph, Photograph by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio/Art Resource, NY

Checkerboard-Four-Block Variation Divided by a Cross quilt

c. 1955

Polly Bennett

Cotton

89 1/2 x 73 in.

Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.169, © Estate of Polly Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio / Art Resource, NY

“Bricklayer” Variation quilt

1975

Quinnie Pettaway

Corduroy

82 x 72 in.

Museum purchase, and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.170, © Estate of Qunnie Pettway/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio/Art Resource, NY