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Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph

Mary Lee Bendolph quilt

Mary Lee Bendolph, Husband Suit Clothes (Housetop Variation), 1990, mixed fabrics, including corduroy, octton, denim, velveteen, and synthetic brocade, 76 x 80 inches. Collection of Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph
Exhibitions in List Gallery and McCabe Library
September 6­—October 28, 2018

Please enjoy a [pdf] of the exhibition catalog.

View a [pdf] of the Gee's Bend press release.

View a [pdf] of Responses to Gee's Bend.

View a [pdf] of Gee's Bend Oral Histories, collected by Yixuan Maisie Luo '19 and Catherine Williams '19

Gee's Bend Oral History


Mary Lee Bendolph's extraordinary quilts 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, she has been profiled in numerous essays including the 1999 Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize-winning article "Crossing Over". In 2017, she and her daughter, Essie Bendolph Pettway, were the focus of Maris Curran's documentary film, While I yet Live, Together with other quilters in the historically black community of Gee's Bend, Alabama, she has been honored through touring museum exhibitions and her quilts have been collected by distinguished institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph,was organized by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts and was made possible by The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation and the gifts of individual donors in support of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's Diverse Voices lnitiative. The exhibition was adapted for two venues at Swarthmore College by List Gallery Director Andrea Packard. 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, Aolar Mosely, and her daughter, Essie Bendolph Pettway—three generations of women who responded to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow with remarkable faith, resilience, and creativity.

Funding for the exhibition at Swarthmore College and the accompanying public events and catalog were made possible by the William J. Cooper Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Department of Art and Art History and Swarthmore College Libraries.

Thursday, September 20
Mary Lee Bendolph and the Quilts of Gee's Bend
4:30-5:30 p.m., Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema

Introductory remarks by Andrea Packard, List Gallery director
Film Screening: While I yet Live, directed by Maris Curran, a 15-minute documentary profiling Gee's Bend quilters Mary Lee Bendolph and Essie Bendolph Pettway

Panel discussion:
  • Rubin Bendolph Jr., son of Mary Lee Bendolph family quilt curator
  • Essie Bendolph Pettway, quilter and daughter of Mary Lee Bendolph
  • Maris Curran, Independent film director
  • Hannah W. Blunt, Associate Curator at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum
  • Celebration with additional visitors from Gee's Bend
Opening Reception for Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph
Thursday, September 20 5:30-7:00 p.m., List Gallery, Lang Performing Arts Center
An 82-page exhibition catalog will be available.
Friday, September 21
Gee's Bend: Personal Narratives and Artistic Legacies
A Symposium on the Importance of Documenting Oral Histories
10 a.m.—Noon, Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall

  • Members of Mary Lee Bendolph 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 for Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Friday, September 21st, 1:30-4:00 p.m.
Quilting and Conversation
McCabe Library Atrium

An informal public gathering with quilters and other residents from Gee's Bend.  Demonstrations and refreshments provided.

Tuesday, October 23, 4:30-6:00 p.m.  
Responses to Gee's Bend
Public Reception and Curators' Talk
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 and Digital Initiatives 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.
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