Artistic Endeavors – Gee’s Bend’s Mary Lee Bendolph

The recent QuiltCon show had the fingerprints of Gee’s Bend quilters all over it. One of the more prominent of those quilters – Mary Lee Bendolph – is featured in a current (through May 27, 2018) exhibit at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. She was born in 1935, freely used whatever fabrics were at hand (jeans, suits, etc.) and is now involved in printmaking.

To quote from the exhibit website, “This exhibition, which is the first to examine works from five decades of Bendolph’s life, considers her quilts as objects with many meanings. At once functional necessities and aesthetic wonders, many of the quilts on view are also family documents and symbolic memorials.”

Here are a few of her quilts.

Husband Suit Clothes (Housetop Variation), 1990
mixed fabrics, including corduroy, cotton, denim, velveteen, and synthetic brocade
80 x 76 inches

Ghost Pockets, 2003
Mixed fabrics including denim, cotton, polyester, and synthetic wool
Overall: 72 in. x 85 in.

“In Ghost Pockets, Bendolph incorporates pieces of her husband’s jeans, complete with their faded patches, still-saturated seams, and the deep indigo “ghosts” of pockets that once held Rubin Sr.’s hands, his tools, and other personal items. She also uses strips of turquoise, pink, and creamy yellow cotton, taken from his pants and shirts.

Created more than a decade after Rubin Sr.’s death, this quilt represents Bendolph’s resistance to a Gee’s Bend tradition: that of burning the clothing of the deceased. Instead, Bendolph saved articles of Rubin Sr.’s clothing to make quilts. “That way,” she said, “you always be with me…you’re always covering me.” The back side of Ghost Pockets has a large strip of red flannel overlaying a multicolored, patterned piece, intentionally giving the illusion of a quilt on top of a quilt.”

Swarthmore College’s List Gallery is the exhibit’s next stop.

Just for comparison’s sake, you can check out the winners at the 2018 QuiltCon here.



Filed under Commentary, Exhibits, Modern Quilting

10 responses to “Artistic Endeavors – Gee’s Bend’s Mary Lee Bendolph

  1. I hadn’t looked at any of the Quiltcon winners yet, so thanks for the link. Yes, there certainly is a direct connection between the Gee’s Bend (and Gwen Marston and Nancy Crow, among others) and some of the winners. I will say they are more impressive each year. I do wonder, though, how they meld with the MQG description of modern quilts as primarily functional. Many of them would be functional as bed quilts, etc., while others are functional mostly as art. And … well, aren’t all quilts either functional as body warmers or window covers or art? (At least at this time, their description also includes recognition that “modern” quilting isn’t really new after all.)

    • I agree that the technical skills of modern quilters have improved and many of the designs are inventive. At least they seem to have stopped rewarding quilts with three triangles and lots of white space. The functional bit – well, certainly many modern quilts end up on beds, but many are viewed as art work. I’ll have to track and see how long that word remains in the modern definition. Where I see the lines get really blurry is in the “modern traditional” category.

  2. The Gee’s Bend quilts certainly made an impact on the quilt world!

    • Indeed, some modern quilters such as Jacquie Gering trace their interest in quilting to the 2002-3 exhibit of Gee’s Bend quilts. There have been other exhibits since, but that was the inaugural one.

  3. Rosemaryflower

    Very snazzy quilts!

  4. Great post and thanks for the links. Years ago one of my brothers gave me the book – Gee’s Bend: The Women and Their Quilts (hardcover, it’s heavy!), I need to revisit it. I continue to be amazed by the seemingly endless designs people create with pieces of fabric! I hadn’t been a fan of modern quilts/quilting but it is truly growing on me!

    • I have “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” which is also heavy. I remember the reaction of quilters I know to the lack of points and wandering edges of such quilts. They quivered with dismay. The MQ movement is maturing and designs and skills are improving.

Leave a Reply to KerryCan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.