Friday, December 8, 2017

Fact Friday: The Quilts of Gee's Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin

The Quilts of Gee's Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin. 56 p. Abrams Books for Young Readers Abrams/ June, 2017. 9781419721311. (Review from purchased copy)

I don't recall now when I first learned about the quilts of Gee's Bend. It might have been when Jacqueline Woodson's Show Way was published (2005) and I got interested in the history of quilting in the south among enslaved women.  Gee's Bend popped into my consciousness again in 2011 when I read Belle, the last mule of Gee's Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud. I also became a fan of Susan Goldman Rubin after reading her biography of Diego Rivera. Books by her are basically an automatic purchase by me even if I can't get to read them all. 

The Quilts of Gee's Bend is just gorgeous through and through from the trim size through the cover to it's meticulous writing and arresting photographs of both the quilts and portraits of the quilter artist. 

The history of Gee's Bend dates back to the 1800s, when enslaved women would toil all day before returning to their quarters to cook, tend their family and quilt. Quilts were important in a variety of ways from the practical to the symbolic. New generations of quilters learned at the knees of mothers, grandmothers, aunts and other women. Once the Civil War and slavery ended, most stayed on in Gee's Bend and became sharecroppers. Most lived in abject poverty and constant debt that they could never pay off. Still, they were a tight-knit community who supported each other through good times and bad.

Readers will get to know a few of the more prominent quilter artists through the leisurely flowing text. There is hardly a page without a photograph of either the quilts (in full-color) or archival black and white photos and portraits taken during the late 1930s when FDR sent a team of photographers to the town to document the condition after an article was written by a journalist named Beverly Smith. 

Plenty of care went into the details of the book's design, with plenty of "white space." The background of the text is a creamy ecru with top-stitching that frames each page, a colorful, bright red, yellow and cream border along the top and page numbers framed in red and blue quilt rectangles.
Backmatter includes cheerful instructions for making a quilt square complete with traceable patterns. Three pages of notes follow. The bibliography includes six books, six articles, a video and three websites. Acknowledgements, image credits and an index conclude this fine volume.

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