Recently I went to the film screening of Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend at the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut. It is a documentary about the African-American women quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Not only were the quilts amazing pieces of art, but so were the stories behind the quilts, the artists, and the town. Most of the women noted that for quite a while they didn’t consider themselves artists, but that they were just doing what came naturally. Living in poverty, Loretta Pettway noted that she had to make her quilts because no one would give her one. That if she wanted to keep her family warm, she would need to make her own. After her father’s death, Arlonzia Pettway and her mother gathered up all of the clothes her father owned to make a quilt, so that her mother could wrap herself in him. I believe all “good art” tells a story. And these quilts do just that. Below is the quilt currently on display at the museum.
Since this was my first time visiting, after the film I took a walk around the museum. I was pleasantly surprised with the collection. I even noted Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence were part of the permanent collection.
Perhaps the most controversial piece in the museum is the work pictured above. I was approached by a few employees while browsing the gallery space to share my thoughts on this specific work. Although you aren’t able to tell by the picture, the highlights on the person were created with actual nails. While art is supposed to evoke a reaction, whether good or bad, I think the fear was that this would offend patrons and disturb school children that come on tours. What about you? Any thoughts??
If you are headed for a visit, be sure to take a look at the commissioned piece in memory of September 11. The canvas is huge (almost an entire wall) and took nearly 4 years to complete. The piece has a ton of symbolism and it’s worth the time to read the write up.