‘Prints and Quilts from Gee’s Bend’ Coming to Sewanee

Arts & Entertainment

The University Art Gallery of the University of the South is honored to host “Prints and Quilts from Gee’s Bend,” on view through Oct. 13. Informed by the tradition of quilting, the art objects on view were carefully selected from the Arnett collection to represent a new chapter in the long story of quilting and the community of Gee’s Bend, Ala.

Pieces of that story are well known. It begins in the 19th century with the enslaved persons on Joseph Gee’s plantation. It stretches through the desperation of the Great Depression and the struggles of the Civil Rights movement, including the success of the Freedom Quilting Bee, founded in 1966 and employing many of the women of Gee’s Bend. 

The latest chapter in the story, represented by “Prints and Quilts from Gee’s Bend,” celebrates the inspiration to be found in quilts and quiltmaking. The prints, maquettes, quilts and sculpture on view were carefully selected by collector Matt Arnett, whose relationship with the artists extends back more than 20 years.

Louisiana Pettway Bendolph thought quilting was behind her, until she saw her family’s quilts displayed proudly in a museum. Called by visions of quilts, Louisiana returned to quilting with renewed appreciation and creativity, building designs that engage with the legacy of quilting. A respected member of the older generation of quilters, Mary Lee Bendolph quilted for decades as a matter of necessity. Her designs into the 2000s are testament to her unflagging creativity and artistic vitality. In 2005, both Mary Lee and Louisiana began to translate their visions for quilts into etchings by means of small scale, stitched maquettes. 

In the early 2000s, friendships were forged between the quilters and self-taught Alabama artists Lonnie Holley and Thornton Dial, both of whom draw inspiration in their own work from the tradition of quiltmaking and from its association with community.

The work of all four comes together in conversation, speaking a common language of improvisation and assemblage. “Prints and Quilts from Gee’s Bend” speaks to connections between media and between artists, and to tireless inspiration and creativity.

On Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. in Convocation Hall, Gee’s Bend quilter Louisiana P. Bendolph, Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-Residence Elyzabeth Wilder and associate professor Jessica Wohl will lead a conversation about quilting, community and the remarkable creative achievement of the women of Gee’s Bend.

Earlier in the day, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., Louisiana Bendolph will attend an on-campus sewing circle that is open to the community. Participants can bring their own handwork, but there will be a small project available to work on as well. No experience required! To attend, please RSVP to Jessica Wohl at <jewohl@sewanee.edu> by Wednesday, Sept. 11.