1919 - 2016

Gearldine Westbrook

Alberta, Alabama

A frequent quiltmaking companion of her sister-in-law Amelia Bennett, Gearldine Westbrook developed a style that resembles the quilts of her neighbors and relatives in Rehoboth and Alberta.

I’m just a old lady here by myself doing the best I can. Eighty-two years old, that’s a big blessing. "The best I can" is about all I can do.

I was born over in Dallas County. I married from out the place you call Rehoboth. And I married and they carried me to Wilcox Corner. Then we moved down on the other side of Mensie Lee’s, down in the woods, going down towards Gee’s Bend. I stayed down there a while.

My husband was Miree Westbrook. His mama was Fannie; I think his daddy was Eddie. Eddie Westbrook used to work up at the gin house up in Alberta. The folks was out there ’cross the field planting cotton, picking cotton and stuff, and he was right at the gin house where they carried it. And we worked in the field.

My great-granddaddy in the Civil War . . . a long time ago . . . you know, killing up peoples, you don’t talk about them things too much to peoples. He used to stay down here to Prairie. He used to transfer from my home to Addie Tripp. She dead. Her daughter dead. All those people is dead! When I knowed him he was too old to work. He lived till he got flat as a dime. He couldn’t work. He had worked on the farm before the war, in the field, farmed cotton, corn, peanuts, potatoes, all such as stuff like that, what they did around here in the field. He didn’t tell us too much. Us was children, and you know how children is—they the devil—and all us would do, hide and try to steal his money and stuff like that. And he had his walking stick, and telling us what he’s going to do to us with it, and all such. He was a real old man. And he was just flat.

I been making quilts for a long time, and I got more mess I done pieced up. When you get old, you get to the place where you get out of one situation and just be sitting around to keep your mind together, you do things. I reckon I started working on it from a child. See, my mother and them learnt us all that stuff. They made quilts. Grandmama, too. All us, that’s what we worked at, quilts and stuff. That’s all we had to do. You just had to find a way to do it yourself, out of old clothes, old overalls like from that old man I been telling you. We made them out of old clothes, old socks, and then after people went to work at piece factories, if you had somebody related they would get you pieces. I don’t follow no pattern. I just went to putting them together, just get me a needle and some thread and sitting down and just went to work. I was just doing the best I could. When you sit down you got to get yourself a mind of your own, figure out a way to put them together.

While the artists featured in this groundbreaking catalog were born in the Jim Crow period of institutionalized racism, their works embody the promise and attainment of freedom in the modern Civil Rights era and address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and spirituality. Originally created as expressions of individual identity and communal solidarity, these eloquent objects are powerful testaments to the continuity and survival of African American culture. This gorgeous book features lush illustrations of works by artists such as Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, Purvis Young, and the Gee's Bend quilters--including Gearldine Westbrook, Jessie T. Pettway, and more--and presents a series of insightful essays.

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.

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.

de Young Museum
June 3, 2017 to April 1, 2018

"Revelations: Art from the African American South" celebrates the debut of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco major acquisition from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta of 62 works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts
May 25 - September 2, 2012

This exhibition explores parallels and intersections in the works of the world-famous Gee’s Bend quilters and the self-taught master of assemblage art, Thornton Dial. Quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend feature a sophisticated orchestration of color and eccentric quasi-geometric shapes composing what the New York Times has said are “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”

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.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
September 6 – November 10, 2002

"The Quilts of Gee’s Bend" celebrates the artistic legacy of four generations of African-American women from a small, historically all-black community in rural southern Alabama. This exhibition of over sixty extraordinary quilts that were made between 1930 and 2000 showcases a body of work that is bold, spirited, moving, and hailed by Michael Kimmelman, in The New York Times, as “some of the most miraculous works of art America has produced.”

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."