Gee’s Bend is a small, isolated, rural community in southern Alabama. Joseph Gee had a cotton plantation there that he sold to Mark Pettway in 1845. After the Civil War, Pettway’s freed slaves became tenant farmers. Many bought their farms in a 1940s’ New Deal program.
The women of Gee’s Bend made dozens of quilts. They were needed for warm bed coverings. Quilts were hung on walls to keep out drafts and laid on floors for children to sit on. The quilters passed their skills down through generations. They pieced together recycled fabrics in a bold, geometric style more like modern abstract paintings than familiar quilt patterns.
In Gee’s Bend, the top is designed and stitched by one quilter. Sewing together the top, batting, and back is sometimes done communally. In 2003, more than 40 women founded the Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective. Typically, half of the proceeds from each quilt sold goes to the designer and the rest is divided among the collective’s members.
In the 1930s, Gee’s Bend quilts sold for two dollars. Now, having been discovered by the outside world and displayed in museums across the country, top Gee’s Bend quilts sell for as much as $35,000. Gee’s Bend Quilt stamps are part of the American Treasures Series.