The Rustic Chic Quilts of Gee’s Bend

Closeup of Mary Lee Bendolph's "Strips-and-Strings Quilt", 2003

During a recent visit to relatives over the holidays, I had the pleasure of viewing the inspiring exhibition entitled “Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee’s Bend Quilts, and Beyond” at the Berman Museum of World History in Anniston, Alabama (www.bermanmuseum.org).  The amazing quiltworks and quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama first came to national attention in a 2002 showing at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The artists have since gone on to national prominence and acclaim best expressed by art critic Michael Kimmelman at The New York Times who praised the quilts as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”  That simple statement sums up the body of work of these master quiltmakers.

This particular exhibition studies the creative vision of Mary Lee Bendolph; her mother, Aolar Mosley; her daughter, Essie Bendolph Pettway; her daughter-in-law, Louisiana P. Bendolph; and two self-taught Alabama artists, Lonnie Holley, a sculptor; and painter-sculptor Thornton Dial. 

The show impressively blends the artists’ individual approach to their craft with their sense of family, community and rich African American heritage.  The quilts are stunning not only in their assembly but they also introduce the viewer to new experiences in the larger context of contemporary American art. 

Mary Lee Bendolph's "Strips-and-Strings Quilt", 2003. 74 x 49 inches

Mary Lee Bendolph's "Work-Clothes Quilt", 2002. 97 x 88 inches

Mary Lee Bendolph's "Blocks-and-Strips Quilt", 2005. 84 x 81 inches

Louisiana P. Bendolph's "Bricklayer"- Variation, 2003. 89 x 68 inches

All images from “Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee’s Bend Quilts, and Beyond”, edited by Paul Arnett and Eugene W. Metcalf, Jr. in conjunction with Tinwood Books, Atlanta and The Austin Museum of Art

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