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Souls Grown Deep board chair Mary Margaret Pettway and Shontaye Mosely. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio.
Souls Grown Deep board chair Mary Margaret Pettway and Shontaye Mosely. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio.

Souls Grown Deep Invests in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, the Home of Generations of Quiltmakers

Souls Grown Deep (SGD) is planning to help revitalize Gee’s Bend, Alabama—the home of multiple generations of quiltmakers, many of which are represented in the organization’s collection. Established to promote the work of African American artists from the South, SGD has already succeeded in spotlighting the community, which consists of the towns of Boykin and Alberta, by fostering the acquisition of quilts and other works from artists in the region by major art museums in the United States—since 2014, SGD has placed quilts by sixty-eight Gee’s Bend quilters into the permanent collections of twenty cultural institutions.

The announcement follows the nonprofit’s decision in 2018 to expand its mission. Since then, SGD has strategized on ways it can help improve the socioeconomic conditions and lives of artists living in the area. In order to do this, the organization will invest in five initiatives. It will collaborate with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development and the design consultancy Pentagram to reinstate the Gee’s Bend Quilt Trail, which was created more than a decade ago to mark the homes of the ten quilters—including Minnie Sue Coleman, Lottie Mooney, and Ruth Pettway Mosely—whose quilts were featured on a series of postage stamps issued by the United States Postal Service. The “Quilts of Gee’s Bend” stamps were made following a highly successful touring exhibition of the same name in 2006.

SGD will also partner with the nonprofit Nest to create new avenues for the promotion and sale of new quilts; provide on-site training for teachers at Gee’s Bend’s only elementary school so that they may integrate the history of artworks from Alabama into their curriculum; help obtain accurate representation of residents for the 2020 census; and work on relaunching the community-based organization Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy’s (FQBL) original building, which opened in 1966 and formally closed in 2012. FQBL previously provided employment for women in need of work. With the help of the foundation, FQBL may comprise a gallery, a library, and a resource and learning center in the near future.

“Our primary focus has been to change the canon of art history to admit African American artists of the South,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, president of SGD. “With these five initiatives, we seek to address institutional inequities that have historically excluded those artists and their communities from recognition.” He added: “The art world is waking up to its many social responsibilities, and we are proud to play a small part in shouldering those.”

The Freedom Quilting Bee, Alberta, Alabama. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio.