1912 - 1999

Aolar Carson Mosely

Boykin, Alabama
About

Born in 1912, Aolar Carson Mosely was one of eight children in the Gee’s Bend family of Elizabeth Pettway Carson and Sim Carson. At a young age, she was taught to quilt by her mother. Unlike many of her neighbors, she used a machine that had been purchased by her father. "I ain't never learned to sew with my hand. Most everything I make with a machine." From a young age, she observed her mother going from house to house to participate in quilting groups; she even helped construct the frames used in quilting. She would go with others to the woods, find four long poles, trim them and let them dry. Her father would then nail them together to form the frame.

Aolar was married to Wisdom Mosely in 1929 and they eventually had seventeen children, including Mary Lee Bendolph, their seventh child. They were among those who lost everything in the raid by agents of the Camden merchant's estate in 1932. They were also among those who benefited from the efforts of the Resettlement Administration later in the decade, buying a house and 116 acres. Aolar's familiarity with informal quilting associations came in handy later in her life when she became one of the founding members and behind-the-scenes organizers of the Freedom Quilting Bee. She worked both days and evenings, providing instruction, cutting pieces for others to sew, and fixing the machines when necessary. She prided herself on making it possible for others to work as efficiently as possible. "When they get there, they ain't got nothing to do but go to sewing." Although her wages at first amounted to little more than a few dollars a week, they slowly made a difference in her life. An April 18, 1969, article in the New York Times featured her photograph with a new washing machine she had purchased with her earnings and noted that she was also installing indoor plumbing and had plans to buy a freezer. She worked at the bee until 1981, then continued as a volunteer. "I was working for to get paid from up yonder one day," she explained, gesturing toward the sky.

She worked in the fields alongside her husband, Wisdom Mosely Sr. She loved to sing, pray, and quilt—skills she passed on to her children. Mary Lee Bendolph remembers her as a very generous person who would always share food or money with those in need. Mosely was also a community healer. She would go into the woods to gather natural substances for remedies, and counseled locals about home cures. She suffered from dementia late in life and lived her final years with Bendolph after her home burned in 1984 and destroyed nearly all of her quilts.

Creation Story explores parallels and intersections in the works of Dial and his fellow Alabamians, the remarkable quilters of Gee’s Bend. In the tradition of African American cemetery constructions and yard art, these artists harness the tactile properties and symbolic associations of cast-off materials in creating an art of profound beauty and evocative power.

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.

Mary Lee Bendolph’s extraordinary patchworks garnered national attention when they were featured among the works of other quiltmakers from her tiny, predominately African American community in the 2002 blockbuster exhibition and book, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. This beautiful book examines Bendolph’s inspiration, creative process, and individual genius, as well as her profound connection to the cultural practices and expressive traditions out of which her work arises. 

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 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.

Museum of International Folk Art
November 16, 2007 – May 11, 2008
This exhibition puts the Gee’s Bend quilts in context by featuring the work of master quilt maker Mary Lee Bendolph and those she influenced, accompanied by the art of artists working in the found-object tradition who are part of her artistic sphere, including Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley.
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."