Have you bought your Gee's Bend stamps yet? These beautiful US Postal stamps transform every envelope into a work of art, and the story behind them is a counter-remedy for an entire network broadcast hour of bad news (at least). I assume those of you reading this as artists and quiltmakers know the storyline, and know that a new exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts is making its way around the country now.
The women who made the original quilts -- first elevated into the (capitol A) art world by collector and art historian William Arnett in 1998 -- have made new ones, and their children and grandchildren are piecing more still, some of the youngest generation using computers for design! The new October issue of Smithsonian magazine includes a lengthy and well written story about the quiltmakers and their journeys from poverty to museum walls, "Fabric of Their Lives," by Amei Wallach. The story answers the questions many of us had about how the museum exhibits and acclaim have changed the lives of the makers, and provides insight into the creative process(es) that guide(s) their work. The article is not yet on the Smithsonian magazine site, it posts these articles only after a couple of months, it appears.
I've only seen pictures, and I did not get to Houston for the exhibit this summer, but I am planning a trip to Austin for the exhibit there. Reading the story of what this work has done for the women, for their community and for all of us, I am reminded of the work of the potters of Mata Ortiz. There, too, creative work, dreams and the longing of all of us for genuine and heart-true craft and art has transformed lives, brought change and new perspectives to the artists and their lives. Will the youngest generation's computer aided designs be as powerful as the original work denim and clothing factory scraps? Who knows? At least, with these powerful images, we see the power of creative work, of hands on fabric, of the transformative power of individual voice and spirit.