1955 - 1988

Linda Diane Bennett

Boykin, Alabama

During her brief life, Linda Diane Bennett, granddaughter of Delia Bennett, created some of Gee's Bend's most elegant quilts. Her mother, Ella Mae Irby, talks about Linda Diane and her death.

Linda Diane Bennett was my second child. She was a deputy sheriff working at Camden Courthouse. Come home and piece her quilts, lay them across her lap and quilt them. I don't know how she did that. Wasn't a wrinkle in it. Didn't use no horse, that's the way she did it—right across her knee. Come home, you don't even know she there, just back there piecing them quilts. Mama taught her how to do it. That's who taught me, too: Mama. We'd piece us into the night and then go to quilting. Learned to do it without a frame.

Linda was quiet. A hard worker. She was smart. She had to go to the field, too, might have been about ten years old, like all my children did. But it wasn't hard like when we was young. She got to go to school all year round. Finished twelfth grade, she trained for deputy sheriff.

She left home one day—come by here every day before going to the courthouse. Sat in a chair right here in this room. It was 1988. I ask her, "How come you don't got no coffee?" She say she don't want none. She went out and sat in the car, I walk with her, she got to the gate. She always say "I'm gone," but this time she waved her hand, said, "Good-bye."

She looked so sad. The sun was shining, and I started crying, and I said, 'Why she say "Good-bye?" She always just say "I'm gone." I watch her ride off, out of sight just like I'm not see her no more. And I didn't. Somebody call and ask me if I heard the news. They say somebody named Linda Bennett fell dead at the courthouse. I said a lot of folks name Linda Bennett, so I called the courthouse and asked, 'Where Linda?'

"They say, 'At the hospital.'

"I say, 'How come?'

"They say, 'She dead.'"

This catalogue accompanies the exhibition Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South, presented at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, June 8-November 17, 2019.

A new consideration of extraordinary art created by self-taught Black artists during the mid-20th century​. My Soul Has Grown Deep considers the art-historical significance of self-taught Black artists, many working under conditions of poverty and isolation, in the American South. It features paintings and drawings, mixed-media and sculptural works, and quilts, including pieces ranging from the pioneering paintings of Thornton Dial (1928–2016) to the renowned quilts made in Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

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.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
June 8, 2019 to November 17, 2019

As embodiments of the African American experience and cultural legacies, the works of art featured in Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South are rooted in African aesthetic legacies, familial tradition, and communal ethos. Previously marginalized as “folk or self-taught” art, they now take their rightful place as significant contributors to the canon of American Modernism.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
May 22 - September 23, 2018

This exhibition will present 30 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and quilts by self-taught contemporary African American artists to celebrate the 2014 gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art of works of art from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

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."