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In Gee's Bend, this recycling practice became the founding ethors for generations of quiltmakers who have transformed otherwise useless material into marvels of textile art.
Until the middle of the twentieth century, the majority of quilts from the area were made from worn-out work clothes, a palette of old shirts, overalls, aprons and dress bottoms whose stains, tears, and faded denim patches provide a tangible record of lives marked by seaons of hard labor in the fields of the rural South.
As a category, quilts dominated by a single shape express themselves almost magically, repeating, revising, and rearranging an element in a dizzying number of mutations and variations on themes.
Theirs are handsome, if unorthodox, works of art, yet the shared unorthodoxy attests to the stabilizing power of a tradition that, for many decades, has fostered individualism and even eccentricity.Uninhibited by the norms of fine or folk art, the Bend quiltmakers have been guided by a faith in personal vision; most of them start with basic forms and head off "their way" with unexpected patterns, unusual colors, and surprising rhythms.The quiltmakers of Gee's Bend and Rehoboth tell similar stories when describing their separate styles; taken together, the women's insistence on developing a unique artistic voice becomes a statement about their community's tradition.The "Housetop," from the composite block down to its constituent pieces, echoes the right angles of the quilt's borders, initiating visual exchanges between the work's edges and what is inside.Traditional African American "call and response," a ritual technique of music and religious worship, is intrinsic to the targetlike push and pull among elements.