1933 -

Sarah Benning

Boykin, Alabama

The Benning sisters, Willie Ann (b. 1927) and Sarah, are two of the few remaining residents of White's Quarters, once a neighborhood with many farming families. They both were taught to make quilts by their mother, Maggie Benning. Willie Ann talks about the old days.

We farmed in the one block behind the house in the same area I live in now. Sit around the fireplace and piece, and hang the quilt from the loft. Seebell and Luvinia Kennedy would come and quilt. My oldest and two others would go quilt from house to house. Quilts made of bought material left over from making clothes. Mama was Maggie Benning. She made most of our clothes when we were small. We made quilts out of our old dresses when we got to be teenagers.

I would go visit other places but I always wanted to stay here. Never liked Mobile to go live there. If I had to go anywhere, I would go to Michigan to stay with my daughter.

My favorite was red and white, and blue and white—I made those quilts at Seebell's house and she would help me. I gave those quilts to my daughter. Seebell always wanted to get it right. After Seebell passed and Luvinia moved to New York and Callie Young passed, I stopped making quilts.

Sisters all worked together on the quilt. Mama was the main quitter. She would beat the cotton out and put the lining on the floor and whip into the frames. We could hang it up till the next day. Mama loved to cook, but then she got disabled and I had to cook. She never complained.

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.

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."