Tuesday, May 16, 2017

When in Gee's Bend...

quilt by Mary Ann Pettway
that I am completely in love with!
I have visited Gee's Bend lots of times over the years, but never before have I gone with a school group! What a pleasure to join students from J.E. Hobbs Elementary School (Camden) for a Gee's Bend adventure! For more details about the Camden part of my trip, click here. While I talked with school groups at the ferry terminal/nutrition center, the other groups visited with quilters at the Collective.

The beautiful Alabama River
Our morning started with a gorgeous 7:45 ferry ride. What a great way to start the day! I remembered all the reason I love the water and was filled with such peace and calm...

When we arrived at the ferry terminal/nutrition center, we were greeted by Doris Young and her granddaughter Maya, who was having her breakfast -- and a beautiful blue quilt-in-progress:

quilt square in the frame

While we waited for the students to arrive (due to insurance reasons, the kids were not allowed to ride over on the ferry and had to take the long 40-mile route by road), Sulynn and I hopped down the road to the Collective, so I could say hello to Mary Ann Pettway. She was already working away... later I heard she told the kids about the tape she keeps on her fingers, because yes, if you quilt, you're going to get poked! Here she is hard at work:

... and then it was back to the ferry terminal to meet the kids. Oh,
what a wonderful group! The acoustics aren't all that great in that room, and we had no microphone, and we were missing cables for the powerpoint, so.... we winged it in true Gee's Bend style! One thing that was super fun was that all the kids had ipads donated by Apple, and they were charged with telling a story about their day. I loved meeting the Apple folks and seeing all those kids using technology to share stories. I have been promised links to their projects very soon!

me and Mary Lee
...and then... oh, my goodness, the very best surprise: MARY LEE BENDOLPH walked into the building!!! I adore Mary Lee. She's the one whose story won J.R. Moehringer a Pultizer Prize. Click here to read "Crossing Over."  She's the one who made the quilt I have a signed print of in my family room. She's one of the ones who was recently awarded a National Heritage Award. And she hasn't been well... but on this day she was smiling and giving advice to the kids about loving the world and listening to their parents and I was enraptured. Here she is with the group of kids.

... and then it was time to leave Gee's Bend. We got on the ferry, and guess what else got on the ferry, despite insurance concerns? Two schoolbuses full of kids! This was a pretty big deal, and I was glad to be there to witness it. Thankfully, there were no mishaps. Next we headed back to Camden for a quick bite to eat at Larry's (the day's special was spaghetti and
Students waiting for the rest of the group,
so we could begin!
meatballs...yum!), and onto Wilcox Academy. I spoke at Wilcox Academy way back in 2010, so it was fun to go back, especially on the eve of Mother's Day, with all the special-made treasures waiting on the backshelf to take home, and me there to talk about a book that's about a girl who loves her mother more than anything. There are more pics -- and better ones -- over at Black Belt Treasures Facebook page, thanks to Kristin Law!

art by students atop bookshelves in library
The final school I visited was Salem Elementary in Orrville, Alabama -- not in Wilcox, but Dallas County. In many ways it felt every bit as isolated as Gee's Bend, and I was reminded of how the Black Belt stretches on and on, so many trees and woods and narrow roads and no cell service. :) There I was met by a wonderful teaching-artist Jo Taylor and an enthusiastic artsy librarian Karen Grimes ... and a bunch of bright-eyed kids!

What enthusiastic readers!
 Thanks again to Black Belt Treasures, the quilters, these kids and all the wonderful educators and artists who made this a trip I will never forget. May we all remember Mama's words of wisdom: "err on the side of love." xo

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