Gee’s Bend quilters are collaborating with British brand Marfa Stance on a collection of wearable artwork and blankets to be shown in Los Angeles, California, from Thursday to October 30 at Gallery C Project in a curated exhibition by renowned art dealer Joel Chen and curated by his daughter Bianca Chen and Jane Hallworth.
The collaboration was orchestrated by Nest, the non-profit organization that works with artisans and makers for greater gender equity and economic inclusion.
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Nest has worked alongside Gee’s Bend quilters since 2019 and has helped facilitate their other collaborations with Greg Lauren and Chloe.
“Two of the things we heard from quilters were that they didn’t have access to the market and wanted to test their creativity through brand collaborations,” said Ashia Sheikh Dearwester, who leads global partnerships and nationals of Nest, in a Zoom interview. She noted that there is a historic legacy of Gee’s Bend brand collaborations, with a Sears collection of corduroy pillow covers produced in 1972 being one example.
Marfa Stance is a sustainable women’s clothing brand created by Georgia Dant in 2019, featuring multi-functional, versatile outerwear made from responsibly sourced, recycled or dead stock fabrics and trims. (The name was inspired by the modular aesthetic of artist Donald Judd, whose foundation is located in Marfa, Texas, and the brand’s stance on responsible production.) It’s sold at Net-a-porter , Matchesfashion and Browns.
“The quilts are abstract, geometric, modern and unique. They are formed out of a need, but they are also art, and I love that juxtaposition of creativity and function,” Dant said of the works of art by the rural community of black artists. from Alabama. “I love the parallel between our way of working and their way of working, but this collaboration is really about bringing them to light.”
The Marfa Stance x Gee’s Bend collection includes 14 hand-quilted oversized reversible blankets, 16 hand-quilted paneled jackets and 10 hand-sewn framed mini quilts.
Thirty-eight artisans, aged 19 to 86, came together to work on the project, with two or more quilters per item, and each piece took more than a week to make.
Gee’s Bend artisans received luxury fabrics for their work, including lightweight cashmeres, wools and nylons, all leftovers from Marfa Stance’s production in Italy, which they combined with their own found fabric. Each piece bears the name of the quilters.
“We had never worked with these types of fabrics before…we usually use cottons. Day one we were just busy rubbing and feeling the fabrics, trying to form a relationship to make it work well for us,” said Gee’s Bend quilter Claudia Pettway Charley.
The result was an enriching experience. “We are used to working in groups, being able to share our ideas, and one of the things that Marfa Stance reminded us of was when our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would gather around a quilt frame and were working together on a piece.We had moved away from that by doing our own thing with our Etsy shops.
The unique works will be available for purchase at the Los Angeles gallery and on marfastance.com for $2,500 to $25,000. “We wanted to portray this as an art project, not fashion or craftsmanship, because quilters deserve to be recognized as artists,” said Dant, who is based in London. “I think the appetite for that kind of medium will be much more successful in LA with the nature of the products, and it’s an American story so I wanted to show it here.”
The brand has paid for quilters’ work in advance, and revenue generated from the Marfa Stance collection will directly fund a Gee’s Bend Community Manager role to support market expansion initiatives.
To date, Nest has been able to generate nearly $800,000 in direct revenue for quilters.
“It’s made a huge difference in the lives of quilters,” said Pettway Charley. “For me, I don’t like student loans and I can pay cash for my daughter’s tuition. People can make bigger purchases and save money, things we’ve never done before. Economically, it has done a lot for this community.
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