My first year involved with the Quilt Symposium and Terri Blanchette, Community Programs Director at the History Center was wonderful...could my second year be any less? Already enthusiastic, I started the summer with a trip on July 7th, 2009 to study quilting among the women in Gees Bend with the Nia Quilters, a guild directed by Janice Parks of the Young Men and Women's African Heritage Association based on Pittsburgh's Northside. Ms. Parks has organized several trips to this historic Alabama region, where women in her group have made quilt tops that were prepared at a local rented residence, taken to the Gees Bend Quilt Collective; then quilted by both quilting groups in a good old fashion quilting bee. Nothing fussy or fancy. Just talking and quilting. Bettie Bendolph Seltzer, one of the collective regulars and I became porch buddies, having coffee and watermelon at her house every morning, where I learned more about her passion for quilts and the mystique that is Gees Bend. I learned how hard the residents had to fight to keep their land; how many times it was almost taken away through graft and greed; and how there wasn't a piece of dirt they could rightly sell or give-away, so strong was their love of community and heritage.
I wouldn't trade the time I spent with Ms. Bendolph for anything. It was an empowering experience, even for someone who thought she knew her way around a quilt square. I look forward to showcasing much of what's been done with these two innovative African-American quilting groups in an exhibit I will curate entitled "From These Rivers: Work Created by the Nia Quilters of Pittsburgh with the Quilters of Gee's Bend on January 23 and 24, 2010 during the Quilt Symposium at the Senator John Heinz History Center.