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Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt

Lucy Mooneyc. 1935

Souls Grown Deep

Souls Grown Deep
Atlanta, United States

In a purely aesthetic sense, the more simplified constructions of the work-clothes quilts provided a blank canvas for experiments with a range of improvisational strategies, including sudden shifts in patterning, broken borders, irregular shapes, asymmetry, syncopation, and dissonant juxtapositions of prints and colors. Underlying the works of many Gee’s Bend quiltmakers is a willingness to challenge the ordinary, and this tradition of aesthetic daring has created some astounding visual results. One example is this quilt by Lucy Mooney, a patchwork of simple blocks spliced together in a way that turns their plain geometry into a compelling visual puzzle.

When Adrian Van de Graaff of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, bought the Pettway estate in 1900, he installed a relative, W. C. Travis, as overseer. Needom Mooney and his wife, Lucy, worked as domestic servants at Sandy Hill, the former plantation house, where Travis lived until his death in 1916. When Arthur Rothstein photographed Gee's Bend in 1937, John Henry Miller, son of ex-slave Dinah Miller (who was probably African born), had become the foreman for Van de Graaff's heirs. Rothstein photographed Lucy Mooney in at least six settings: working on a quilt, posing on her porch, standing with grandchildren inside her home, sitting on a bed, reading a book, and cooking.

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