Mary Lee Bendolph (b. 1935), Work-clothes quilt, 2002
Denim and cotton, 97 x 88 in.; New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
Throughout the lexicon of African American culture, castaway objects are often used to reaffirm life, as the reinvestment of creative energy in old and outworn things suggests the possibility of turning adversity into spiritual triumph. The tradition of the work-clothes quilt is part of that practice; for Bendolph, the transformation of old fabrics into beautiful, comforting quilts became a metaphor for surviving hard times. In her own words, “They remind you of where you have been and where the Lord have brought you from.” In this quilt from 2002, Bendolph created a brooding patchwork composed almost entirely of worn blue jean scraps. But here and there within the dark, heavy ﬁeld are passages of brilliant red. Even more paradoxical is the appearance of a few other squares of cloth printed with a delicate pink flower pattern—a symbol of regeneration.
One of the best-known and most revered Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, Mary Lee Bendolph (b. 1935), has spent many decades transforming scraps of old cloth into aesthetic marvels. To create her quilts, she tears worn and discarded clothing into simple strips and blocks of fabric, then assembles them into highly refined geometric abstractions. Her genius resides in her ability to invent a seemingly endless variety of complex compositions and astounding visual effects from a rudimentary vocabulary of shapes.
Mary Lee Bendolph’s 1998 “Housetop” variation appeared on a U.S. postage stamp in 2006 as part of the American Treasures series. In 2015 she received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor for folk and traditional arts in the United States. Her work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; High Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art; National Gallery of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Phillips Collection; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Tate Modern; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Learn more about Mary Lee Bendolph here.
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SelectionMany of the works offered through this store are exclusive and not available anywhere else. We are continually adding new artworks to our offering, so be sure to check back regularly as you build your own gallery.