When the spectacular “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” show came to the MFAH in 2002, Kelly Klaasmeyer reviewed it, starting off her piece by describing a denim-and-olive-green quilt made by Loretta Pettway, one of 45 African-American female artists from Gee’s Bend, Alabama whose work was on display. “It looks like a Joseph Albers painting if Albers were less anal and handy with a needle and thread,” she wrote.
A few years later, Pettway and another quilter, Annie Mae Young, are suing the man who helped bring national attention to their work -- Bill Arnett, founder of non-profit organization the Tinwood Alliance, set up to “illuminate previously unknown or underrepresented aspects of American art and culture.” The two women believe Arnett has swindled them out of thousands of dollars. Arnett says his organization has gone out of its way to support the quilters financially, and in fact, most of them stand behind him.
Still, Klaasmeyer saw problems brewing from the beginning. “William Arnett is one of those ‘good Southerners,’ a liberal with an acute awareness of how black people have been systematically screwed over,” she wrote at the time. “While the alliance is well intentioned and has preserved the quilts, there is also something uncomfortable about the way the people who made them have lost control of their cultural production and its presentation.” – Cathy Matusow
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.