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Blocks and Strips Quilt

Irene Williams (American, 1920–2015)

The women of Gee’s Bend, a small rural Black community in Alabama of about seven hundred residents, have been creating bold, visually distinctive quilts since at least the 1920s.

Irene Williams was from Rehoboth, a scattered settlement north of Gee’s Bend and, from 1966, the home of the cooperative Freedom Quilting Bee formed by sixty Gee’s Bend quilters. For seventy years, she made quilts that defy categorization. She preferred a simple block-and-strip technique with a limited number of colors, as seen in her recent series of quilts, each with its own color combination and lively syncopation.

While the quilters of Gee’s Bend improvised patterns associated with traditional patchwork, influenced one another’s work, and came together to quilt, the women of Rehoboth engaged in quilt-making as a solitary activity, piecing and quilting alone. Their personal visions are evident in idiosyncratic patterns recalling the area’s geography that can be read as bird’s-eye views of dirt roads, fields, garden plots, and houses.

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