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Quilts by sew and sew

Arts Clayton hosting exhibit that mixes art, history

Arts Clayton Gallery Coordinator Courtney Hurst (left) and Executive Director Linda Summerlin discuss one of the Gee’s Bend quilts on display through the end of May.

Arts Clayton Gallery Coordinator Courtney Hurst (left) and Executive Director Linda Summerlin discuss one of the Gee’s Bend quilts on display through the end of May.

— The quilts of Gee’s Bend, Ala., hang in art museums and galleries but their roots grew from necessity.

The women who made these hand-sewn quilts — some of which were created from scraps of corduroy, flannel and denim — intended them for every day use. At least one of them is nearly 80 years old.

“Generation to generation, they’ve been doing this,” said Arts Clayton Gallery Manager Teri Williamson. “They were cut off from the mainland and the only connection they had was by ferry. The quilts were actually made for their functionality, to keep warm.”

These days, the quilts have hit the road and are traveling from one museum to the next. Ten of the Gee’s Bend quilts will be on display through the end of May at the Arts Clayton Gallery, 136 South Main St.

photo

Curt Yeomans

Arts Clayton Executive Director Linda Summerlin (left) and Gallery Coordinator Courtney Hurst examine one of the Gee’s Bend quilts to make sure it is hung properly. The arts group is opening a two-month exhibit on the quilts at its gallery in Jonesboro this weekend.

The arts group partnered with Clayton County’s Board of Commissioners, Economic Development Office, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Tourism Authority to present the exhibit, which cost about $10,000 to bring to Jonesboro.

Part of that cost covered the installation of a new system for hanging artwork that Arts Clayton officials said was necessary to display the quilts.

The exhibit mixes art and history because the women who made the quilts have been handing down the tradition for generations dating back to when their ancestors were slaves. Williamson said art has long been a way to tell history, likely starting with cave drawings at the dawn of mankind.

“Art is history and history is art,” she said. “So much of American history, and history around the world, has been carried on by artists.”

Arts Clayton Executive Director Linda Summerlin said the exhibit will also give the gallery an opportunity to exhibit a different type of art form.

“It’s a representation of our desire to reach a broader audience,” she said. “Quilting is an art and it’s lost art, particularly by hand.”