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7 / Domestic Life

Blocks, Strips, Strings, and Half-Squares Quilt
Blocks, Strips, Strings, and Half-Squares Quilt
Artist / Origin Mary Lee Bendolph (American, b. 1935), Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective, Gee’s Bend, AL
Region: North America
Date 2005
Material Cotton
Dimensions H: 84 in. (213.4 cm.), W: 81 in. (205.7 cm.)
Location Collection of the Tinwood Alliance
Credit Gee’s Bend Foundation/Collection of the Tinwood Alliance/ Photo Courtesy of Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio, Rockford, IL

expert perspective

John BeardsleyDirector, Garden & Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks

Blocks, Strips, Strings, and Half-Squares Quilt

» Mary Lee Bendolph (American, b. 1935), Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective, Gee’s Bend, AL

expert perspective

John Beardsley John Beardsley Director, Garden & Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks

Gee’s Bend, Alabama, is a majority black community. It has been there for a couple centuries. It’s populated mostly by the descendants of slaves of a family named Pettway who owned the whole area as part of a large plantation in the nineteenth century. Their descendants stayed on as sharecroppers, surviving in very impoverished circumstances, and developed a remarkable tradition of quilt making, and often re-used salvaged materials, old field dresses and work clothes, to make quilts.

In Anglo-American traditions, the goal is to follow a pattern as closely as possible. In African American quilt making traditions, the goal is to break the pattern. There is a pride of the individual maker in these quilts. At the same time, it is a very cooperative exercise. An individual will make the top, but then when it’s quilted, stitched together to the backing and the filler, that’s often much more of a cooperative or communal exercise. What’s amazing about Gee’s Bend is there are a hundred women in the last hundred years who have been really exceptional artists. And exceptional at a level that we recognize as high art. The level of formal invention in these quilts is extraordinary. And they hold their own against some of the finest abstract painting in America.” 

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