Monday, August 13, 2007

Linda Day Clark and The "Benders" or Geesing with my Aunt

Sunday, My Aunt and I made plans to see the exhibit of The Gees Bend Quilts at the Walters Art Museum. Luckily, Auntie was paying attention and suggested this day so we could also listen to a presentation by Linda Day Clark, a photographer who accompanied a journalist from New York Times(?to Gees Bend, Alabama. Over the next 6 years, Linda continued to make the trip to Gees Bend to listen and photograph. Linda started her talk softly, slowly, searchingly, and going back as far as her education. She showed photographs of North Avenue, where she had been told not to go, "you'll get killed". She showed the spirit of community. She then showed and spoke of a project in Nigeria, where she had been told not to go, "you'll get killed". Again, the spirit of community shown through in her photographs. She showed and spoke of Maryland slaves, and lastly the "Benders" as she called them. She was able to weave the projects together, North Avenue, Nigeria, MD slaves, and Gees Bend, by their common thread of community, overcoming obstacles, enslavement, and strength. It was quite amazing.

We slipped out during question and answer period so we could see the quilts before the entire crowd got there. They were very interesting. What was very apparent was the era in which they were made, even without looking at the dates. Auntie and I discussed the heritage of their quilts, how it has changed since they have come, again, into the limelight. We looked at quilts that were objects of beauty because of what they came from, the obvious make do thriftiness, the obvious patina of wear from clothing and from use as a covering. This was missing in the current quilts of the 90's and 2000. We also slipped upstairs to see the photographs that Linda had taken in Gees Bend. We looked at the photos of the Benders and what she had captured with her lens was the eyes. What they had seen, what they felt, the strength, the weaknesses. Again, amazing.

Back in the day, when I first started quilting, I had a quilting friend. She was older, almost Grandmother age for me, and she was a perfectionist. I have many unfinished projects or tops that were discarded because they were not perfect. She would have me take out stitches for various reasons, points don't match exactly, thread is wrong, etc. Don't get me wrong, I loved her (and still do) and learned quite a bit. But I have been freed. Now I know it does not matter. The beauty comes in the process and the use.
During that earlier time, I had occasion to see some African/American quilts at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis. I don't know what collection they were from and also did not appreciate them. Also during that time, I received a book from my Aunt called "The Freedom Quilting Bee" about these African American women in an outpost of land in Alabama producing these incredible works of art in their quilts. Yup, it was the "Benders". The women of Gees Bend. I plan on rereading this book after the multitude of others before it.
I truly enjoyed the afternoon with my Aunt. We had a delightful lunch and talked of the upcoming surgeries and health issues of my parents. We spoke of family and it's roll in our lives. She was the perfect person to see this exhibit with as she examines and likes to discuss what she sees. She has the ability to wonder, to listen, to learn, to appreciate. It was a perfect delight.

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