On Saturday, a friend and I drove up to Flint to see the exhibit of Gee’s Bend quilts at their Institute of Art. It was such a pleasure to see these quilts in person. I have seen many images of quilts from Gee’s Bend, but never any close-ups. These quilts are so different close up.
My friend had seen them in San Francisco several years ago had told me before about the exhibit...how some of the most compelling design elements turned out to be stains, puckers, and worn spots when viewed up close.
I loved the exhibit at the FIA. I had a camera with me and was going to take a few pictures to share the experience, but when I asked if snapping pictures was okay, I was told no.
And so, I’ve decided to take a page from the book of Michael David Murphy and tell you about the photographs I didn’t take and the reactions you didn’t have to them.
1. This is a picture I didn’t take of a quilt constructed largely of denim. I’ve zoomed in to a section that is about 1-foot by 2-feet. You can see that the piece of denim on the right must have been cut from the front of a pair of jeans because there is a worn spot where a knee used to live. On the left, the denim is from the rear of a pair of jeans; the pocket has been picked off and the denim that was hidden by the pocket is much darker. It almost looks like itajime. It makes you think about all the work that people do to modify fabric purposefully when every day we modify the fabric we wear just by sitting on it, getting it dirty and washing it.
2. This a picture I didn’t take of a quilt constructed of corduroy. I have knelt on the ground in front of the quilt and shot upwards at it so that you can see the deep pile of the cords. You can also see that the seams are uneven and don’t lay flat. No, they don’t lay flat at all. And yet, you would never unpick this and redo it. “Why are you such a perfectionist?” you wonder. “Does it have something to do with the difference between creating quilts out of necessity and creating quilts that are dispensable?”
3. This is a picture I didn’t take of a dark quilt. I’ve zoomed in very closely and caught the light so that you can see how unappealing this shiny bit of poly-blend fabric is. Unlike the other quilts, which you really want to touch, you have no desire to touch this. You have no idea why I have taken this picture until you read in my comments that I took it because the fabric read so differently from a distance. Lovely from afar, unappealing close up.
4. This is a diptych I didn’t take of that mostly-denim quilt again. The photograph on the top shows a piece of it that is about 1 foot by 1 foot. There are so many seams in this potion of the quilt. The quilter must have cut every usable piece of denim from a pair of pants including these itsy bitsy pieces that have to be joined to each other before they can be attached to the larger strips made from the legs. The photograph on the bottom shows the whole quilt. You quickly locate the portion featured in the close-up. The seams are barely visible. You nod in agreement as you read my caption saying there should be a book on Gee’s Bend that shows close-up and macro images.