Skip to main content

Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph

The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph

Exhibitions in List Gallery and McCabe Library

Date: Sept 6 - Oct. 28
Location: List Gallery and McCabe Library

The extraordinary quilts of Gee’s Bend, Ala.—including those made by Mary Lee Bendolph—have been compared to the literature of Toni Morrison, jazz classics, and masterworks of modern art. Recognized with a 2015 National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, Bendolph has been profiled in a Pulitzer Prize-winning essay and served as the focus of the documentary While I Yet Live.

This exhibition was adapted for two venues at Swarthmore College by List Gallery Director Andrea Packard ’85. The List Gallery will feature a selection of quilts made between the late 1970s and 2010 and several prints made in 2005. McCabe Library's upper atrium will feature several quilts by Mary Lee Bendolph alongside works by her mother and daughter—three generations of women who responded to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow with remarkable faith, resilience, and creativity.

Mary Lee Bendolph and the Quilts of Gee’s Bend

Date: Thursday, Sept. 20, 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Location: Lang Performing Arts Center, Cinema

  • Introductory remarks by Andrea Packard ’85, List Gallery director
  • Film Screening: While I Yet Live, a 15-minute documentary profiling Gee’s Bend quilters Mary Lee Bendolph and Essie Bendolph Pettway
  • Panel Discussion, featuring:
    • Hannah W. Blunt, associate curator, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum
    • Rubin Bendolph Jr., family quilt curator and son of Mary Lee Bendolph
    • Essie Bendolph Pettway, quilter and daughter of Mary Lee Bendolph
    • Maris Curran, director, While I Yet Live
  • Celebration with additional visitors from Gee’s Bend

Opening Reception for Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph

Date: Thursday, Sept. 20, 5:30–7 p.m.
Location: Lang Performing Arts Center, List Gallery 

An 82-page exhibition catalog will be available.

Symposium: Gee’s Bend: Personal Narratives and Artistic Legacies

Date: Friday, Sept. 21, 10 a.m.–noon
Location: Kohlberg Hall, Scheuer Room

  • Panel Discussion, featuring:
    • Members of Mary Lee Bendolph’s family and Gee’s Bend residents, including Essie Bendolph Pettway and Rubin Bendolph Jr.
    • Yixuan (Maisie) Luo ’19 and Catherine Williams ’19, Swarthmore College Humanities Grant recipients who conducted oral history interviews in Gee’s Bend
    • Ellen M. Alvord, Weatherbie Curator of Education and Academic Programs, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Public Reception and Curators' Talk: Responses to Gee's Bend

Date: Tuesday, October 23, 4:30-6:00 p.m. 
Location: McCabe Library Atrium

Installed concurrently with Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph, Responses to Gee's Bend features works by 17 artists who were inspired by the aesthetic legacy of Gee's Bend and created works specifically for McCabe Library's space. The exhibition was curated by Andrea Packard, List Gallery director; Alicia Ruley-Nock, independent quilt maker; and Susan Dreher, Visual Initiatives and Exhibitions Librarian. Selected from numerous applicants from across the United States, the artists featured in Responses to Gee's Bend demonstrate a wide range of approaches, techniques, and thematic concerns. Participating artists are: Betty Leacraft, Michael Olszewski, Allyson Allen, Cassandra Stancil Gunkel, Chawne Kimber, Christina Johnson, Denise Roberts, Jas Mardis, Juanda Gikandi, Katie Baldwin, Melissa Maddonni Haims, Polly Dressler Bech, Rachael Dorr, Sheryl Kessler, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, and Maisie Luo. Responses to Gee's Bend will also feature WPA-era documentary photographs and contemporary contextual materials including excerpts from interviews with Gee's Bend residents conducted by Swarthmore students Maisie Luo and Catherine Williams.