In Person: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

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On Friday, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a meet and greet of sorts for two Gee’s Bend quilters, Mary Lee Bendolph and Loretta Pettway Bennett. The event (at the offices of a local law firm who represents the artists) was held primarily to introduce large art galleries and universities to the quilters, in hopes that their unique quilts will hang in permanent installations. I was so glad Patton Boggs reached out to the DC Modern Quilt Guild–I would have never known about it otherwise.

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There were a handful of quilts on tables, and we were invited to touch the quilts–with all of the textures, fabrics, and unique hand quilting details, it is almost impossible NOT to touch these quilts!  We watched a few short videos–one highlighted the work of Mary Lee Bendolph, one highlighting the work of Loretta Pettway Bennett, and one about the community of Gee’s Bend in general.

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 Mary Lee Bendolph and Loretta Pettway Bennett

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One of the most interesting things about the experience was the connection between music–especially gospel music–community, and quilts. Loretta (who is a 5th generation quilter) talked about listening to music, dancing, and singing as she makes her quilts, and I think the joy and movement she feels when making the quilts actually manifest themselves in her work.  In Mary Lee’s video, you could see and feel the importance of gospel music, religion, and sisterhood in her life and in her quilts. She also sang for us, which was a treat.

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Mary Lee Bendolph with some of her quilts in the background

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True to the Gee’s Bend tradition, Loretta only uses clothing in her quilts.

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Interested in learning more about the Quilts of Gee’s Bend?

Representative Mary Sewell (D-Alabama) gave a congressional tribute to these two quilters last week–I recommend reading it here.

Original article in Smithsonian Magazine (2002?)

Auburn University has a Catalog of Gee’s Bend Quilts

I check this excellent book out from the library every few months: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

Interesting 2003 NPR story on Gee’s Bend

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10 Comments

  1. Posted April 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderfull experience this must have been! I saw an exhibition of quilts of Gee’s Bend 5 or 6 years ago in a museum in Santa Fe and the quilts and the stories made a deep impression on me. I read several books with beautifull pictures of the quilts. Three years ago my husband and I made a trip through the Deep South and we visited Gee’s Bend. It was a beautifull trip and along the road are panels with pictures of the quilts of Gee’s Bend. You drive from one to another. That was magnificent! I love your pictures!
    Marina.

  2. Gayle
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I made a quick trip to Bham to visit my Son at Samford University this weekend. The Gee’s Bend quilts were on my mind just too far of a trek. I am going to have to talk my husband into making our next visit a real trip and take in more of the state since our son will be staying in in Bham all summer with his job. I want to see those quilts and visit their community. We did have the pleasure of visiting a country church in Gadsen and seeing our son deliver a message. What a blessing.

  3. Posted April 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    You are so lucky to have seen and touched those beautiful quilts. I hope to be able to see them in person myself someday. Thank you for sharing those awesome links!

  4. SLS
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I love the Quilts of Gee’s Bend and the story behind them. What a great experience to hear/ see personal accounts! Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Posted April 22, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m so jealous – I would LOVE to meet these ladies! I’m a huge admirer of the Gee’s Bend quilts.

  6. Posted April 23, 2013 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing these pics. I am so bummed i couldn’t get down and see this in person!

  7. Posted April 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m so bummed I missed this! I couldn’t get out of work :-(

  8. Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    What an incredibly opportunity–and very inspiring stories!

  9. Posted April 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    what a thrill to see these quilts in person and to hear the speaker.

  10. nicole_boldgoods
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful opportunity! Loretta is my absolute favorite quilter of all time (after my grandma). I need to move to DC…I need to move to DC…

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