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Oldest Gee's Bend Quilts...Gone??

Sunday, June 24, 2007

It seems like every weekend there is a new story and a new case against Tinwood over the Gee's Bend quilts. This weekend, there was another story in the Mobile paper (here) about how Lucinda Pettway Franklin charges that the Arnetts (Tinwood) took the two oldest quilts from the community and won't give them back.

Here are some bits from the article:

The quilts, more than 100 years old, were made by Franklin's great-grandmother, Sally Pettway, from worn-out slave clothes and bits of fine fabric cast off from Pettway's masters while she was still a slave.
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Franklin said Matt Arnett came to her home in Mobile and asked to borrow the quilts for one month so they could be photographed and included in a book about quilts. She remembered he became very excited when he saw the quilts for the first time.

That was two years ago. Since that time, Franklin said, Arnett has told her the quilts were destroyed in a fire, accidentally thrown away, ruined in a flood, lost or on his desk ready to be mailed to her.

The quilts are thought to be worth as much as $100,000 apiece.

Franklin said the slave-era quilts were stitched together with a rough, crude thread, about the only thing available, even in the years after the slaves were freed. Silk and satin bits discarded by the slave owners served as stuffing because the expensive fabrics were warmer than cotton.

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"It was trash to the master, silk dresses and such. They'd have the slave-wear on top (of the quilt), you know, their old clothes, but then underneath, inside, where the stitches had broken out, you'd see this rich material in between the rags," Franklin said. "It gives you chills.

"Here goes a person, who might have worked in a field for 15 hours, and then had to come and sit on that dirt floor and try to get those children to bed and work on that quilt to keep them warm. Stuff these pieces of underwear and other things into these little quilt pockets for warmth. ... To see that beautiful piece of material peeking out of those old rags, that's it right there. It's like looking in a rusty old can and seeing some diamonds."

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"This is us, rough and suffering and all this pain on the outside, but then inside, it's this beautiful material," Franklin said. "If I was missing my mama, I'd snuggle up in a chair with her, with her quilt. I was just loaning (Matt) some memories. I wasn't selling anything. I just want my quilts back."
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All this time I have really been hoping this was a huge misunderstanding, but when you read something like "...Arnett has told her the quilts were destroyed in a fire, accidentally thrown away, ruined in a flood, lost or on his desk ready to be mailed to her"......

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