Ruth Kennedy came into the Gee’s Bend Collective the day I was leaving. She often stops by when she knows there are people coming to visit, and that morning there was a bus bringing 15 quilters from Marion County Alabama.
Ruth just turned eighty-seven and is still quilting. She’s the oldest quilter in Gee’s Bend. She’s a soft spoken woman whose sweetness you can see in her smile. She took my hand and held it in both of hers when she introduced herself to me. Then she told me that when she was a little girl they used to hang the quilt frame from the ceiling in their house. It was on a pulley so they could lower it when the 5 or 6 neighborhood women would come over to quilt. She got a big smile on her face remembering how much fun it was to play under the quilt frame as a kid.
Until the 1930’s most of the families lived in plank houses in Gee’s Bend with a fireplace to heat and help light the room. They would hang quilts on the walls to keep the wind from coming through the cracks in the walls. They would pile 3 or 4 quilts on the bed to keep warm at night.
Now when the women of Gee’s Bend make quilts, they do it to sell them at the Collective. But the quilts continue to be about survival, community, art and beauty.
4 thoughts on “Ruth Kennedy, Gee’s Bend’s Oldest Quilter”
What incredibly warm and welcoming people. Amazing how a common interest can bring diverse (maybe not SO diverse!) people together. You would never have known of the Gee’s Bend Collective before the internet. You will have these memories to keep for the rest of your life. Glad you had such a great time!
What do you think about the energy and magnetism you have to draw to you the remarkable women you have just met? It would seem your own personal power is drawing others, influencing, and inspiring many. I would suspect you may not be comfortable with those terms but it has Truth nevertheless. The small quilt in Jon’s post from Gees Bend did exactly what the large art museum exhibit did when I saw it. It stopped me in it’s track and left me breathless. Whew!!!
Maria, thank you for exposing me visually to another form of quiltmaking. I intend to study the books through the library when I’m through something I’ve set before me now, a project that seemed like a good idea a the time but is nothing but a challenge now…I find the Gee’s Bend quilts calming to look at and modern art at its best…for me, anyway. You must feel so inspired,
SandyP in Canada
Thanks for relaying this wonderful story and photo1