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Home » Archives » June 2018 » Conversations With Gee’s Bend

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06/06/2018: "Conversations With Gee’s Bend"

Considered to be the most important African-American cultural contribution to the history of art in the US, the Quilts of Gee’s Bend are “Moving, Powerful and Abstract Masterpieces.”

Several artists across many mediums have been invited to express their own dialogue with the women and work of Gee’s Bend in the summer exhibition at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA), Conversations With Gee’s Bend. The exhibition opens on Friday, May 25 and continues until Labor Day weekend, September 3.

Fifteen years ago, a breathtaking exhibit of quilts by African-American women toured the country. Visitors were galvanized by the bold use of color, the improvisational designs and the stories the quilts portrayed.

The women of Gee's Bend succeeded in creating masterpieces of art, telling their stories of strength, faith, civil rights, and a pride in an African heritage. Quilts made of necessity became something enduring and beautiful.

These quilters from the isolated rural community of Gee's Bend, Alabama are descended from West African slaves. The remote geographical location isolated the community from outside influences. Families handed down traditions, quilt by quilt. The women were not considered artists by society's standards. Their materials were often nothing more than worn out clothes.

Conversations with Gee’s Bend fills all three galleries at SJIMA in Friday Harbor, WA. Art quilts from the Cargo Collection, the Ren Riley Collection and Gee's Bend hang alongside contemporary works.

One artist, a hurricane survivor, uses salvaged building materials to create wooden art forms. Another uses clothing of a loved one to create a quilt expressing grief and healing. An internationally known artist from Ghana, Serge Attukwei Clottey uses his cut up signature plastic jerry cans to bear witness to the effects of environmental damage and resource extraction.
With part of her collection permanently displayed at the Smithsonian Museum, Ren Riley, an avid quilter for 40 years, spends her days restoring, studying and exhibiting African American textiles.

All the artists carry the 2018 theme, The Female Gaze, The Woman as Visionary and Creator through the exhibition in an adventure of art-some traditional and some unconventional layering their personal meaning in their work.

Invited artists come from Ghana, New Jersey, San Francisco, Seattle, Santa Fe, Atlanta, Gee’s Bend and our own island community. The women of Gee's Bend have inspired these many artists across the country to speak through their work, creating a visual dialog"a conversation with Gee's Bend.

Local quilters, Rainshadow Quilting Arts Guild and others, are providing quilts to several participating organizations and businesses to embrace the Town of Friday Harbor in a spirited Quilt Walk in support of the exhibition.

As part of SJIMA’s arts education programming, it will host a gallery talk on June 13th by Greg Kucera whose Seattle gallery has held two exhibitions of Gee’s Bend quilts. Author and instructor Katie Pedersen will teach a workshop, Improvisational Quilting on June 24th. Laura Petrovich-Cheney will conduct a talk and hands-on workshop on August 19 from 1-5 where she will discuss her work and methods. See for more details on all of these programs.

SJIMA is open Thursday-Monday, 11-5. Admission is $10 and free for members and those 18 and under. Mondays are Pay As You Can Days. Also visit our web site for Summer Family Art Days and Art For Fun for beginning painters.

Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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