Craftwork from the famed quilters of Gee’s Bend can be found in the collections of blue-chip institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. Starting today, you can also find creations from the artists of the small Alabama community at a less likely location: Etsy, the crafty e-commerce site that is publicly selling Gee’s Bend quilts online for the first time.
In recognition of Black History Month, Etsy partnered with Souls Grown Deep, a foundation dedicated to preserving and promoting the work of southern African American artists, and Nest, a nonprofit dedicated to the “handworker economy,” to bring the textiles to the site.
Nine Gee’s Bend artists are currently featured on the marketplace, each with a special shop badge next to their name, with additional quilters expected to be added later this year. Their offerings vary from small, hand-sewn face masks to baroque quilts that could swallow a king-sized bed. Accordingly, the prices range from $15 (for a mask) to several thousand dollars for quilts.
You can purchase, for instance, a square, QR code-like wall hanging from third generation quilter Mary Margaret Pettway for $489 or a multi-paneled, eight-foot-long geometric tapestry from Doris Jean Pettway Mosely for $4,360.
Nest was given a $50,000 grant from Etsy as part of the collaboration—money that was used to provide the artists with the resources to launch individual shops on the site.
Nest’s relationship with the craftswomen of Gee’s Bend began in the summer of 2019. Last year, the nonprofit launched a pilot online marketplace for the quilters, made available only to a small group of supporters. The sale brought roughly $60,000 back to the artists. Over the course of the last year, the partnership has generated some $92,000 in income for the quilters, according to Nest’s estimates.
“The acclaimed Gee’s Bend Quilters have long garnered praise for their bespoke offerings,” said Rebecca van Bergen, founder and executive director of Nest, in a statement. “Our work with these artists speaks to our mission to build a new handworker economy that benefits a wide diversity of makers and artists with greater social equity and economic opportunity.”