Joe Cunningham is a quilter, who has been inspired by Gee’s Bend. In a video which mixes his own amazing style, he meets, pays tribute to the women quilters at Gee’s Bend and joins them in quilting.
“I’m trying to be free by making quilts and it seemed to me that they had very free ways of working and oh boy, oh boy, it’s been very inspirational to me.
Joe Cunningham Visual Style
Joe likes to work with an overall design (like Gee’s Bend sewing makers) rather than repetitive small patterns over the large space of a quilt.
He particularly enjoys working with fabric given to him – which he has not chosen himself – again, this is similar with the Gee’s Bend women, who were using what fabric came to them through life.
One of his favourite quilts came from suit materials, donated by a woman in her 90s – she had taken her husband’s suits from the 1930s and 1940s, disassembled them, and ironed out the seams, so he had the fabric to work with. Joe made this extraordinary, vibrant quilt.
As part of visiting the Gee’s Bend women, he visits Lucy Mingo’s house, with great respect. She casually shows him armfuls of her homemade quilts – including her very first one – from a pattern called “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”. He jokes with her about how he is going to brag that he has folded her quilts. She is much amused by this. There is mutual respect, here, and professional discussion of various pattern names.
Call yourself professional
Joe Cunningham states things simply, with a fine line in self-denigration. Right at the start of this video, he says that some time ago, he decided to print business cards with his name and the title “professional quilter” because – well how could it be disproved? At the time, he says he could go to a national conference and meet the other dozen people who were also professional quilters – but now this has grown to a billion dollar industry, with many people professionally employed in the quilting industry.
He raises an excellent point – that first step of daring to say that your employment, your identity is in the area you are drawn to. Many writers and artists struggle with calling themselves “writer” or “artist”, even though they’ve intensively studied their craft, refined their work and invest many hours into it. Joe just decided to call himself by that title (he’s a smart person, he obviously merited it in some way) – and then began getting invitations to teach on it…. and he was up and away. He makes it sound very simple.
“Men in quilts are guests… it’s totally a woman’s world; it’s very kind of women to allow us to do this.”