Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Gee's Bend Lawsuits

Shaila Dewan has a story in today's New York Times on the Gee's Bend quilt lawsuits, mentioned earlier here and here. She summarizes the lawsuits as follows: [1] "two of the quilters, Loretta Pettway and Annie Mae Young, filed lawsuits against [Bill] Arnett and his sons, saying they had been cheated out of thousands of dollars in proceeds from their work and copyrights" and [2] "a third lawsuit, brought by Lucinda Pettway, a resident of Mobile, Ala., whose forebears lived in Gee’s Bend, accused the Arnetts of refusing to return two of the community’s oldest quilts, dating to slavery times. The Arnetts have since returned the quilts, but say an appraisal showed that they were not nearly that old and were worth less than $500."

Dewan's bottom line take:

"The story line — poor, uneducated black women swindled by 'scheming Atlanta businessmen,' as one newspaper article called the Arnetts — was juicy enough to be front-page news in the South. The reality, though, is more nuanced. The vast majority of the quilters remain satisfied with the Arnetts (there were works by 22 living quilters, including Ms. Pettway and Ms. Young, in the most recent museum exhibit)."

The PropertyProf is interested in the way the quilters' overall business is organized:

"The quilters’ collective, an informal group of about 40 members, pays $150 a month to rent a former day care center marked by a small, hand-painted sign, where one room is stacked floor to ceiling with quilts. Small quilts go for $200 to $1,000, while bed-sized ones are priced at $950 to $7,500. When a sale is made, half the money goes to the quilter and half to the collective, which periodically disburses dividends to all members. Royalties from reproductions of the quilts go into the foundation, which now contains $147,000. The system was designed to forestall jealousy, protect elderly quilters who can no longer sew, and acknowledge the interdependent nature of the community, where many quilters are related and styles were handed down from mother to daughter."