1914 - 2002

Amelia Bennett

Alberta, Alabama

    On their porches in Rehoboth, a group of related neighbors used to pass their days making quilts. Amelia Bennett, her daughter Sally Bennett Jones, and her sister-in-law Gearldine Westbrook developed similar quilt styles during decades of working together.

    I was born in Hazel, Alabama, going towards Selma. I was raised in Wilcox Corner. My mama, she was named Fannie T. Westbrook. She was a Thomas. Daddy was Alex Westbrook. I married a man—his home was in Marion—Willie Earl Bennett. We met in '35 when he was firing at the slate mill in Peachtree out from Sunnyside. We started to talking, called ourselves courting for about two months, and then got married. We had three children. I worked seventeen years for the William Atkins family over here in Rehoboth. Mr. Atkins was like a daddy to me, was good to me, and he give me this little place here to live in. I've been living here ever since. I been here about forty-two years now, might be longer than that.

    I had started to work in the fields when I was eight years old. Us started helping Mama at that time. There was seven of us, and I didn't know it going to be so hard. So, we go out in the field and be back there playing, way back behind. And Mama look back there, break her some switches, put in that apron. My mama didn't play: she tell us do something, and we go to playing, she take that switch to us. Tore us up good. She liked everything just right. She wanted us clean, doing everything right. We was raised by a good mama. Daddy, too. I was eleven years old and I used to watch my mother when she piece quilts, and I would pick up all the little pieces and watch her sew them together. And I kept doing that until I got a big part. And she said, "Honey, you doing good." So then she give me some pieces. She said, "You understand how to cut them?"

    "I say, 'I'm going to try.'

    "She say, 'Well, if you try you can make it.'"

    I kept a-doing that till I pieced up the whole top.

    And she say then, "I got some old pants in there," and said, "I'm going to tear them up and see if you can put them together." And she say, "I'm going to quilt your quilt for you." And I was so proud—oh, I was so proud of it. So that day, she say, "I'm going to put your quilt up this evening."

    What I first did, I showed it to my daddy, and he was amazed over me making it. From then on all the strips my mother give them to me, and I kept mending them together till I got a quilt top. Whatever we did, my daddy always just carry it up, you know, and that made us do better. He wouldn't never say That ain't right or You didn't fix it like this or like that. He always made much of it. That made us feel good, you know: "Pa said it's alright."

    So, when I come home the quilt was up, and as far as I could reach I help her quilt them quilts. And on and on and on, I just kept piecing up and kept quilting.

    Quilting and fishing, I loved it. And cooking, too. I love that fishing. Love to see that cork go down.

    I remember when Martin Luther King came to Camden. Lot of them went to see him, but I didn't. I didn't have no ride up there. But I hear the stories, and it make me feel very good, the path he cut for us. It was, you know, like you walk into a room and ain't no light on, and you turn on a light in the darkness—that's what Dr. King meant to us. He turned on the light for us.

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    This book and exhibition are part of a growing family of research projects about the African American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and its quilts. Surrounded on three sides by a river, Gee’s Bend developed a distinctive local culture and quilt design aesthetic. In 2002 the inaugural exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documented these quiltmaking achievements. Expanding upon that initial exhibition and its accompanying publications, Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt offers a deeper look into the women and their art, and a more focused investigation into the nature and inspirations—and future—of the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition.

    Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

    Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

    Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

    The Quilts of Gee's Bend

    The Quilts of Gee's Bend

    The women of Gee’s Bend—a small, remote, black community in Alabama—have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend tells the story of this town and its art.

    Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art, Vol. 2

    Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art, Vol. 2

    Completing the two-volume set, "Souls Grown Deep, Vol. 2" takes the visual and historical presentation of the first volume to a richer level, offering an even broader array of artistic styles and media. Breaking away from the stereotypes that identity folk art and the South with rural, isolated, static and agrarian ways of life, these pages unveil an art that embodies social change and continues to flourish at the dawn of a new century.
    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
    June 4 – September 4, 2006

    "Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt" features seventy spectacular quilts made by four generations of women in Gee's Bend, a small, isolated African American community in southwest Alabama. With bold improvisation of traditional quilt motifs, these women have created a style all their own. Made between the 1930s and the present, the Gee's Bend quilts’ bright patterns, inventive color combinations, lively irregularities and unexpected compositional variations make them outstanding examples of modern art.

    The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend

    This uplifting, Emmy-winning PBS film tells the modern-day "Cinderalla" story of the quiltmakers of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Artists born into extreme poverty, they live to see their quilts hailed by a The New York Times art critic as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."