Sometimes craft isn’t just a product of the community – it is the community – and vice versa. What began as a simple act of survival in the remote Alabama river community of Gee’s Bend1, has developed into an inseparable synergy of people and product – an output of primitive quilts outstanding in design and use of recycled material that has sustained generation upon generation.
It is not unique among small communities throughout America. The Mississippi Cultural Crossroads in Port Gibson is a group of women, mostly African-American who come together and mirror the old fashioned quilting bees, sharing news, ideas and companionship while stitching seven-to-an-inch. MCC also sees its community as one worth documenting through oral and written histories, to assure the community lives on in perpetuity.
Finally, community is the individual who, through his or her craft, becomes “part of the family”. Sometimes that means the people who collect their work. Sarah Jaeger creates functional pottery – plates, cups, saucers, and the like – in her Helena, Montana studio. For her, "the greatest compliment someone can pay to me is 'We open the cupboard in the morning, and we always reach for your cups when we are going to make coffee.' I'd rather know that than know that a piece is on a pedestal in a museum."
Sarah Jaeger, Yellow Pitcher.
In a broader sense, “the family” is the craft community itself – fellow artists who look out for their own and share in the joys and sorrows that can befall any person. Dona Look and Ken Loeber, a husband-wife team that works in jewelry (as well as Dona’s exquisite baskets), have known both. After many years of successful work, Ken suffered a stroke that, while allowing him to work, meant an adjustment, both creatively and professionally. Many fellow artists came together in any way they could to allow the two of them to continue making a living.
In the end, the commonality of community is the place of craft in our lives – as individuals and as a people – in an always fascinating, often inspiring story. A multilayered story of personalities and perspectives, revealing who we are through objects that spring from the heart, the hand, and the collective soul.
Craft is the bridge between what the communal tribe known as America created centuries ago, is creating today, and what will be imagined tomorrow.
Gee's Bend is a small rural community located in southwest Alabama on a sliver of land five miles long and eight miles wide, a virtual island surrounded by a bend in the Alabama River. It was named after Joseph Gee, the land’s owner in the early 1800s. The Gee family sold the plantation to Mark Pettway in 1845. Most of the approximately 750 people who live in Gee's Bend today are descendants of slaves on the former Pettway plantation.
The town’s women developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional American (and African American) quilts, but with a geometric simplicity reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art.