Diamond in Disguise at Gee’s Bend

Mary Ann taking a photo of the quilt scraps
Mary Ann taking a photo of the quilt scraps

“I’ve never done this before”  Mary Ann said as she dumped a plastic bag of fabric scraps on her kitchen table and took a picture of them.  The photo of the  fabric already looked like a chaotic version of one of her quilts.  The shape of the scraps were similar to the shapes in her latest quilts.

Mary Ann discovered her creative time.  Jon always says we each have our creative time.  It’s when we do our best work.  It’s a sacred time, not to be compromised.  It’s now clear that Mary Ann’s creative time starts around 8pm.  After a nap, after cooking dinner and feeding the cats, after eating dinner and washing the dishes, after talking on the phone or to company…..then it’s Mary Ann’s fruitful time to work.

After seeing Mary Ann’s tiny quilt square I wanted one to bring home.  I knew that if I didn’t take one home with me I’d never get one.  Mary Ann has a green suitcase full of small quilt squares that are promised to people, some from over a year ago.  They are all unfinished and have a piece of loose leaf paper folded around them with someone’s name and address, sometimes a description of what to make the square into, or a price of how much the person wants to spend.

I didn’t  want to become a name and address in that suitcase.  So when Mary Ann didn’t get to work yesterday afternoon at the Gee’s Bend Collective, I saw my chances of getting one of her tiny quilt squares slipping away.  But by 7pm, when  she didn’t get the phone call that would let her know  there was Choir practice,  I saw her eyeing the plastic bag she filled that afternoon with my  fabric scraps.  I tried not to look too excited, I knew once she got started she wouldn’t be able to stop until it was done.  She emptied the bag onto the kitchen table.  It was a quilt, a  collage, an abstract painting.  She picked up the strip of  fabric with buttons on it from Jon’s shirt, moving it around on the table.  And when she looked at the clock and said we had to go visit her sister Julie, I wasn’t worried.  I knew Mary Ann would be coming back home and sewing, all those scraps rearranging themselves in her head as we drove to her sisters.

Then for the second night in a row, I watched her as she created.  One of the wonderful things about Mary Ann is her ability to change her mind.  If she sews it together and it doesn’t look right, she patiently gets her seam ripper and pulls it apart.  She’ll work sewing certain pieces together, getting them just right then cut the whole piece in half or thirds.  She’s an animated sewer, taking to herself and the fabric, commenting and congratulating herself when something looks really good. Singing along with the Gospel music on the radio, and holding out her arms, in a Ta-Da! moment,  as if presenting her creation to the whole world when she does something different that she’s really happy with.

And when she finished the piece she was happy and so was I.  She turned it round and round finding which side was up.  Then took a picture of it.  That’s when she saw the diamond shape it made. (she’s always seeing letters and numbers and objects in her abstract quilt designs.  One red and white quilt has a design that looks like R2D2, the robot from Star Wars.  She called that quilt Robot on the White House)  Diamond in disguise she said.  And that’s what it’s called.  Then she signed it and stamped it with the Gee’s Bend Stamp.

I left the rest of the fabric I brought with me for Mary Ann to use.  Pieces of Jon’s shirt and the old faded drapes.  She said she’s going to do a series  of tiny quilt squares using the fabric.  Maybe she’ll sell them at the Gee’s Bend Collective, maybe she’ll have an exhibit somewhere of tiny quilt squares.  I’m just  glad I got one for myself.  I knew that every time I look at it I’ll think of being in Mary Ann’s Kitchen, during her creative time, seeing a tiny quilt square being born.

"Diamond in Disguise"
“Diamond in Disguise”
Mary Ann signing "Diamond in Disguise"
Mary Ann signing “Diamond in Disguise”
The size, title and Gee's Bend Stamp
The size, title and Gee’s Bend Stamp

14 thoughts on “Diamond in Disguise at Gee’s Bend

  1. I love the quilt square she made for you. She is an incredible artist.
    What a wonderful opportunity for you –

  2. what a sensational thing to do. i can’t wait to see what your work will look like now. hooray!

  3. How very wonderful for you to have the experience of this trip and the beautiful “Diamond In Disguise” quilt block to take home!!

  4. This is a wonderful story! Nobody could have written it in a more fascinating manner … even had a suspenseful element – AND a happy endng!!! I talked to your photo – asked it “where is that diamond?” then “oh, I see it!” Thanks, for a fun read – had me right there in the kitchen with you.

  5. Maria,
    I’ve been following your trip to Gees Bend and enjoying every bit of it. Wednesday night I was watching TV and noticed that there was a show about arts and crafts of KET2…so I decided to peek in and see what they were doing…well lo and behold there before my eyes was a piece on Gees Bend Collective featuring Mary Ann and her quilts. Is that strange or what?

    1. It is Leah, I watched part of it at Mary Ann’s house, but didn’t get to see the whole thing. I’ll have to catch it on a rerun.

  6. that’s so neat! What a wonderful time you had, thanks for sharing it with us. Its going to be fun to see how your work is influenced in the coming days!

  7. The buttons add mystery – I imagine them as door knobs and I’m curious…what’s behind that door???

  8. I just happened to catch the PBS documentary on Gee’s Bend as well, and it was just before you left to go there. Was absolutely spellbinding. What a wonderful opportunity for you and loved reading about your time there.

  9. What a wonderful experience, I found your blog by accident as I was googling Gee’s Bend. I have been fascinated by the women there, their quilts, history, songs, everything. When I see them I see my mother (she grew up in the hills of VA – Rappahannock county in the Blue Ridge mountains on a farm too), I get choked up thinking about it. But you are so lucky and blessed to meet them and spend time with Mary Ann. I want to go down there to Gee’s Bend so bad, but my time will come. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with us.

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