1898 - 2001

Magalene Wilson

Boykin, Alabama

For over fifty years, Magalene Wilson made quilts in a project house in Pettway, before moving late in life to Mobile. Loretta Pettway, her next-door neighbor for many years, remembers her.

Magalene Wilson was a good neighbor, friendly, make you laugh a lot. She always had her a lot of money. She had a lot of land and we got this one acre from her next to her place. She help me raise all my kids and grandkids. She was good about giving me stuff, loan me food when we was without.

Her and Martha Jane [Pettway] and my grandmother Prissy was good friends. Magalene was a good Christian woman, always go to church. She loved her cats. Never had no kids. She pieced and quilted her own quilts, in the shell. Make a curved line and then another; small rows and short stitches.

She got real stingy with her money when she got old and wouldn't even buy candy from the kids to raise money for the school. Done all her housework till they came and taken her to Mobile. Cook her own food, wash her own clothes. Kept the yard always so clean. But mighty close with that money.

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.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
June 8, 2019 to September 2, 2019

The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South, an exhibition including paintings, sculptures, and quilts that celebrates the recent acquisition of 24 works 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."