Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gee's Bend - Art & Opinion Magazine

Vol. 7, No. 1, 2008

Artistry We Take for Granted


[I’m talking about crafts as a creative art, but all too often summarily dismissed, that give us pleasure in our homes. Objects that, although of great beauty, are taken for granted as less important because they are utilitarian and therefore not considered art. We can derive great pleasure from these lovely objects, be it a well turned bowl or pitcher, a carving, a hand woven basket or an intricate, finely stitched quilt. We give even less thought, for the most part, to the creative artists who craft these objects so masterfully. Those artists take their works every bit as seriously as ‘fine artists’ whose work is framed and hung. It is for this reason that I was dismayed to hear about a law suit recently filed against the Arnett Family, who with the blessings of the local quilt makers, have written books, created documentaries, documented the quilts of Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective, curated museum exhibitions and organized programs that have introduced the women quilt makers and their art to the world. The lawsuit brought against the Arnetts negatively impacts the quilters by impeding sales and cancelling exhibitions. Dindy Yokel, who represents the quilters, tells it as she sees it. Lydia Schrufer, Arts Editor].



Hillary Clinton wrote, “it takes a village to raise a child.” And in Gee’s Bend it takes a village to create a body of art work spanning five generations. The quilts created by the women of Gee’s Bend have gone from beds to museums and gallery walls in less than a decade thanks to the dedication and selfless commitment of one family -- the Arnetts of Atlanta, Georgia.

But with the blink of an eye, three women have brought shame, lawsuits and loss of income to this tiny hamlet in rural Alabama, "alleging they have been inadequately compensated from royalty agreements."

In the 2nd quarter of 2007, Annie Mae Young and Loretta Pettway, two former members of the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective, filed lawsuits* against the Arnetts. Not long after they were joined by Lucinda Franklin Pettway of Mobile, Alabama, who is neither a quilter nor resident of Gee’s Bend, but a descendant of a quilter.

Despite being mired in legal work, the Arnetts have continued their work on behalf of the quilters (45+ members in good standing of the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective) with exhibitions currently at the Speed Museum of Art in Louisville, Kentucky and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In celebration of the upcoming Black History Month (February 2008), the Arnetts arranged for AT&T to commission a quilt by the artists -- a glorious montage of individual squares created and quilted by all the women of the Gee’s Bend Collective -- a pure indication of what a village can do when it works together.

On January 10, the artists issued a press release showing their steadfast support of the Arnetts and their disagreement with the lawsuits and the women that filed them. The Arnetts are continuing to keep the artwork and tradition of Gee’s Bend alive and in the public eye.

* U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama - Northern District: Case # 07-317 Annie Mae Young Vs. Tinwood Ventures; Case # 07-423 Loretta Pettway Vs. Tinwood Ventures and Case # 07-438 Lucinda Pettway Franklin Vs. Tinwood Ventures.

Note: Dindy Yokel represents the Gee's Bend Foundation and the Arnetts and Tinwood.

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