Annie Mae Says…What!?

Today’s Mobile Press-Register has an article that Annie Mae Young, one of the Gee’s Bend quilters, filed suit in Selma on Friday charging that she hasn’t received any money from the licensing that Tinwood Ventures did with her designs (Tinwood owns the intellectual property and has licensing agreements with companies to make anything and everything from high-end rugs to even candles and datebooks with GB designs).

Her lawsuit claims that she never knew her designs were used or sold (other than as the original quilts) anywhere other than in a book.

Here’s a little bit of the article:

“I don’t know nothing about them making all those rugs. Most of them are made out of my quilts. They’ve got them all over the world and I didn’t even know they were doing that,” Young said. “They didn’t explain nothing to me about rugs and bedspreads and coffee pots. All I know was that they were selling my quilts and giving me a little something for them.”

Young said William Arnett gave her $3,000 for the first quilt, the one that started the Gee’s Bend phenomenon, made from jeans and corduroy. After that, members of the Arnett family, who are all named in the lawsuit, began giving her less.

“He come on down from there to $250, then Matt Arnett, he’d take quilts and give me nothing. He’s gotten a lot of quilts from me,” Young said, her voice full of fight despite her 80-plus years. “So many, so many I made for them. And all the quilts he wanted from me were jeans and corduroys. Sometimes I’d just stitch the top, and he’d take them and have them quilted by someone else. But he’d never give me anything for just the top.”

…later on, her son alleges that she thought her quilts were selling for something around $1000 while she would be getting checks for $200-$300 occasionally. Actually, they’re sold for upwards of $20,000 in NYC!

Even around here, Mary Ann Pettway sells a quilt for $2500 at Black Belt Treasures in Camden. I think they are also selling quilts where the ferry comes in from Camden to Gee’s Bend themselves. I wonder what the price range the quilters are setting for their own quilts. Either way, I’d love to visit sometime soon (like…in the next month before the little one gets here!). Mary Ann is quoted in the article as saying:

“I feel that I’ve gotten a fair deal,” Pettway said. “The others I’ve talked to, they don’t feel like Annie Mae. From what I understand, they feel that they have been treated fairly because until (Tinwood) came along, it seemed like nobody else cared. They came and let us know that we were creating artwork. Nobody cared before that.”

Actually, I think the quilters had been “discovered” a few times in the past, well before Tinwood came along – but the truth is that *nobody* made the quilters famous the way Tinwood did.

Anyway, it’s very interesting, especially if you’ve had the chance to read The Last Folk Hero (here on Amazon) which goes into great detail about the partners of Tinwood Ventures, specifically Bill Arnett. It’s written by Andrew Dietz, who Av and I have known for a little over a year now (that’s my disclaimer, but I read and loved his book first). If you read the book, Annie Mae’s allegations about Bill Arnett’s business dealings don’t come as a huge surprise. It’ll be really interesting to see how this all plays out.

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