These quilting masterpieces have previously been displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, but they could soon be coming to your home interior. The creations of the African-American women quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama, are now available to buy online for the first time on the Etsy e-commerce platform.
You've probably already seen these kinds of quilts in US movies and TV shows, without necessarily knowing much about what they are or why they come from. Quilts are essentially bedspreads often made from old dresses and work clothes, as well as feed sacks and fabric scraps. The quilters of Gee's Bend, a remote Alabama community, are particularly well-known in the US for the colorful quilts that they've been making for over a century, in a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
To celebrate Black History Month, Etsy has announced that the quilters of Gee's Bend will be selling their quilts and other textile creations on the internet. Caster Pettway , Emma Mooney Pettway, Loretta Pettway Bennett and Lue Ida McCloud have already put their creations online, with more to follow, according to Etsy. The handmade sellers' platform has also announced that the Gee's Bend artisans will receive all profits from their sales "for a period of time," unlike other users of the platform, who pay a 5% commission.
This initiative is the fruit of a partnership between Etsy and Souls Grown Deep, a foundation dedicated to promoting the work of African American artists from the South, and Nest, a nonprofit dedicated to "the handworker economy." As part of this partnership, the e-commerce site has pledged to grant US$50,000 to Nest in order to ensure the quilters have "the resources and education they need to open, maintain, and grow their Etsy shops."
Market size estimated to be $4.2 billion
"These acclaimed artisans have long garnered praise for their bespoke offerings ..." said Rebecca van Bergen, Founder and Executive Director of Nest. "Our ongoing work with these artists speaks to our mission at Nest, to build a new handworker economy that benefits a wide diversity of makers and artists with greater equity, inclusion, and opportunity."
Quilts are an extremely popular medium of artistic expression in the US, especially among women. A study by The Quilting Company, Pennsylvania, put the number of quilters at 7-10 million in 2017. And their contribution to the American economy is far from negligible, as the Craft Industry Alliance professional body estimates the size of the quilting market at $4.2 billion in 2020.