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, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Ellen chose this group of women to help make a quilt out of people’s work clothes.

The first step was to get people to submit work clothes for the project. Ellen began calling representatives from more than 200 professions on a list that one of AMP’s interns helped create. Most people were not only receptive to the idea of sending something but thrilled to be selected. Nearly every stamped return envelope came back, not only with clothes but also 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 also came from Oscar Moreno, owner of a valet-parking business in Los Angeles, and “Mr. Fireplace,” a chimneysweep in New Hampshire. Even Mohammad Ali contributed to the project by sending an autographed pair of his Everlast boxing trunks.

In mid-May, Ellen brought the clothes to Gee’s Bend, and 39 women used everything from embroidery thread to fishing line to sew the pieces together in two days, in close to 100-degree heat. Multiple generations worked together, singing gospel songs and telling stories as they created the 14’ x 28’ quilt that will hang in AMP’s visitors center.