A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Linden: Week Five

In Linden on June 11, 2013 at 9:23 pm

7Road Trip Adventure Becomes Treasure Hunt

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Before embarking on this journey, I never would have imagined visiting a place like Linden or Marengo County. After having been here for five weeks, I have more than fully adjusted to rural life. Last week I was given the opportunity to discover more of what West Alabama has to offer.  My community partners, Mrs. Friday and Mrs. Brenda Tuck, had wanted me to get a full experience while I lived and worked in Linden. They both wanted me to see more of what the county and the area offer so we took a road trip to Gees Bend and Camden, Ala.

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Black Belt Treasures features wide variety of art. (Photo by Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

Mrs. Friday was eager for me to visit Black Belt Treasures http://www.blackbelttreasures.com in Camden and take the ferry ride to Gees Bend. Since my main project is an art walk in Linden, she felt it was necessary that I visit Black Belt Treasures because it features art from across the Black Belt region of Alabama, an area so named for its dark rich soil. The art offered for sale here is actually judged and voted on before it is accepted by the organization. This is why many of the pieces are considered “treasures” but I’ll get to that in a bit.

As we set out for this adventure, Mrs. Friday shared the history and politics that related to both Camden and Gees Bend. First, in order to get to Camden you have to cross the river. For this you take the ferry from Gees Bend. Gees Bend is also known as Boykin by all official titles. Now the first thing that struck me about Gees Bend is how small the community is. Mrs. Friday told me that the entire community is 300 or so people. That’s much smaller than Linden. The ferry, which runs across the Alabama River eight times a day, is an important connection for the isolated residents of Gees Bend. This connection, threatened at times, has to do with a community asset that, for a long time, no one recognized.

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Gees Bend quilter at work. (Photo by Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

Gees Bend is now famous because of quilting. Yes, I said quilting. Apparently a group of quilters got “discovered” and popularized back in the 70s. Because the community was so cut off from the rest of the world, the patterns in the quilts are one hundred percent unique and nothing like anything that can seen anywhere else. After finding this “jewel” demand for the unique patterns of Gees Bend quilts soared. Eventually, the quilts made their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, other museums around the United Sates and even Europe. Collectors still treasure the quilts made by the group of women who continue to create beautiful work. They meet at the Boykin Nutrition Center Monday through Thursday to work until after lunch.

The fame of Gees Bend quilts helped get the ferry reopened after it had been shut down. The ferry port is today a major contrast to the more natural landscape that surrounds it. The ferryboat ride I was on was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. The river winds and runs every which way with all sorts of wildlife around. After about 20 minutes or so we arrived at the other port area just outside of Camden.

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Modern ferry terminal on Alabama River. (Photo by Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

We toured some riverfront homes in Camden and visited the downtown area. Camden is almost the same size of Linden and has antebellum homes scattered through the community near the 19th Century courthouse.

Of course, Black Belt Treasures, with art in almost every different medium you can think of, draws visitors to the community. There are paintings and sculptures and other small pieces of art everywhere. After walking around to see the entire place, I began to recall the three hours I spent in the Met in New York City. Even though Black Belt Treasures in much smaller, you definitely need a good amount of time to view all the different pieces.

This road trip turned out to be great adventure of treasure hunting in West Alabama that I truly enjoyed.

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