Quilt making has a long history in Alabama, and there are no finer examples of this art form than the motifs and craftsmanship of the quilts of Gee’s Bend.
Since the 1960s, Gee’s Bend has gained significant national attention from the quilts produced by women in the community, as well as those produced by the Freedom Quilting Bee in neighboring Alberta. Photographer John Reese and writer/storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham visited Gee’s Bend in 1980-81 as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities project to document the community. In the late 1990s, William Arnett, a folk-art collector from Atlanta, Georgia, came to the area and bought hundreds of quilts after seeing a photograph by Roland Freeman of a quilt draped over a woodpile. The pieces have been heralded as brilliant pieces of modern art. A collection of quilts from Gee’s Bend was shown at the Houston Museum of Art before traveling to the Whitney Museum in New York City, where it again received high acclaim. The exhibit also proved to be controversial, however, and initiated serious academic discussions on the definition of art and concerns about the exploitation of the quilters.