Gee’s Bend quilts attract Selma visitors

Published 2:06 pm Sunday, October 15, 2023

By Christine Weerts

The Selma Times-Journal

Beautifully crafted, colorful quilts rippled in the breeze on clotheslines and fences from Alberta to Gee’s Bend Saturday during the second annual Airing of the Quilts. The homespun designs caught the eyes of the over 1,000 visitors who came to the festival to see first-hand the uniquely designed quilts sewn for generations in this isolated community.

Email newsletter signup

Selma residents Kate Wood, Lauren Henry, and Devon Gray were among the visitors – from nearby and internationally – who came to put faces, names, and talented fingers to the quilts they had read about for years.

“I had heard of the quilters and seen the quilts in books and museums, but I was really looking forward to seeing the place where it all began,” Henry said. “We enjoyed stopping at quilters’ houses along the way that had quilts hanging over fences. Every quilt held a story, and not just a story but a history. I love that!”

The fluttering quilts were reminiscent of the first discovery of the Gee’s Bend masterpieces by Episcopal priest Francis X. Walter in 1965. Walter got lost while driving the backwoods of Wilcox County and saw a bright bold quilted masterpiece hanging on a clothesline behind a home in Possum Bend. The quilts and quilters soon gained national attention.

One of the Selma residents’ stops was the 1930s Roosevelt home of Minder Coleman, a community leader who helped run the Freedom Quilting Bee formed after Walter encouraged their work and helped them earn money for their artful creations. Coleman’s daughter, Minnie Sue, sewed the  “pigs in a pen” quilt that appeared on a U.S. postage stamp in 2006 and now hangs in the Montgomery Museum of Arts.

Anderson shared with visitors stories of many quilts and quilters and showed quilts that her family has treasured for five generations.

“My aunt was one of five daughters who all sewed quilts with my grandmother,” said Betty Anderson, Coleman’s granddaughter. “My family has been sewing quilts – from old feed sacks and torn work clothes and stuffing them with leftover cotton from the fields– since they first came to Gee’s Bend.”
Anderson’s ancestors were enslaved by Mark Pettway who took over Joseph Gee’s cotton plantation on the bend of the Alabama River in 1845.   

Sponsored by Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the Quilt Festival featured workshops, Gospel singers, a history exhibit, and dozens of quilters with ties to the community who were selling their colorful, hand-created crafts.

Henry said she enjoyed meeting Cathy Mooney, a Boykin-born quilter living in Birmingham, who learned to quilt as a child, stitching alongside her mother and grandmother. She was moved by Mooney’s passion for quilting and her sweet and gentle nature.

“She showed me some smaller versions of the bigger quilts that she made from scraps,” said Henry, who chose a quilt square she loved for its simple pattern and muted earth-tone colors. “I wanted to take home a memory, even if I couldn’t take home a full-size quilt. I’m looking forward to framing and hanging it on my wall and passing on the story of the quilters at Gee’s Bend.”