Work Clothes Quilt Project, Alabama

May 2004

Gee’s Bend is a peninsula jutting into the slow-flowing Alabama River, and it is the home of a small, remote community whose women have exhibited their quilts in the Whitney Museum in New York, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Ellen asked these women to make a quilt out of people’s work clothes for the mural.

The first step was to get people to submit the clothes. Ellen began calling representatives of over 200 professions from a list that Wells College intern Sarah Clement had created. The enthusiastic response surprised her. “No one hung up on me,” she said. Most people were not only receptive to the idea of sending something but thrilled to be selected. Shari Marks sent out stamped return envelopes and almost all came back, not only with clothes but letters and pictures of people at work. Doris Eaton Travis – one of four living Ziegfield girls, who was celebrating her 100th birthday – sent a scarf with people dancing around the border. Howie Mayer, retired after 42 years on the Aspen Ski Patrol, sent his parka. AMP received a flight suit from Colonel Alton Whitley, first pilot of the stealth bomber. Submissions came from Oscar Moreno, owner of a valet-parking business in LA, and ‘Mr. Fireplace,’ a chimneysweep in New Hampshire. And Mohammad Ali sent an autographed pair of his Everlast trunks.

In mid-May, Ellen brought all the clothes to Gee’s Bend, and 39 women used everything from embroidery thread to fishing line to sew them together in two days, in close to 100-degree heat.