Tradition from different time periods is the focus of two art exhibits this month.
The quilts in the Gee’s Bend exhibit at Heritage Hall Museum in Talladega carry forward the story of the women in a small, remote Alabama community and their 160-year history of developing their own style of textile art.
At Jacksonville State University’s Hammond Hall Gallery, Erin Anfinson’s encaustic art uses an ancient medium, beeswax, as the paint base. This melted-wax method was re-explored by artists in the 21st century and is used today.
During the early days at Gee’s Bend, there was joy in singing as the quilters stitched. Now there’s joy in seeing their art widely recognized. The Gee’s Bend quilters, women who represent three and sometimes four generations of quilters, will have pieces on display at Heritage Hall Museum in Talladega through Feb. 28. Wherever these women travel, they seem happy to share their story with viewers, according to Valerie White, director of the museum.
They still sing at events like Heritage Hall’s opening reception last Thursday night. The songs are spiritually inspired, taken from the African-American tradition of verse-and-response singing.
Southerners have heard about the Gee’s Bend quilters as folk artists since the 1960s. In the 1970s and ’80s, exhibits in museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, launched a level of national attention for the inventiveness of the women’s quilts, which curators have termed modern art.
“We and the quilters learned from each other Thursday night as Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway, both fourth-generation quilters from Gee’s Bend, were here,” White said. “If you are a quilter, want to be a quilter or simply like to see beautiful things, take this opportunity to see the collection. It’s not often that we in this area can see the quilts so close by.”
Gee’s Bend, southwest of Selma and surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River, still exists but it is indeed remote. However, it attracts visitors from across the nation, White said.
The area was named after Joseph Gee, who came from North Carolina to establish a plantation in 1816. In 1845, Mark H. Pettway bought the land and brought 17 slaves to establish a plantation. Many members of the community still carry the name Pettway and trace their ancestry back to the Pettway cotton plantation.
The quilters lived in poverty, but their persistence in making patchwork bed covers led to fame. Old work clothes and feeding sacks were used in their piecework. Selling the quilts helped the community stay alive, but more importantly, the quilts speak of their culture.
Heritage Hall Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups may contact the museum for off-hour visits at 256-761-1364 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talladega hosts Bear Bryant play Friday
If you missed “Bear Country” in Oxford last weekend, you can see it in Talladega on Friday night at 7 p.m., at the Historic Talladega Ritz Theatre. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s play is an up-close and personal journey through the life and times of the legendary Crimson Tide coach. Rodney Clark as the Bear tells his story as several additional actors play out his experiences. All seats are $22. For more ticket information, call 256-315-0000.
Hot wax artist at JSU gallery
Since Erin Anfinson, the featured artist at JSU’s Hammond Hall Gallery, was introduced to hot wax painting, her fascination with the medium has continued. Many of her paper works using this material are inspired by an interest in science, nature, memory and narratives of organisms and their environment.
Her animated films and paper works have been shown nationally and internationally in juried, invitational and solo exhibitions.
She is an associate professor of art at Middle Tennessee State University, where she teaches drawing and design courses. More about this exhibit in next week’s column.
Hervey Folsom writes about the local arts scene every Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com.