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Detail of Mary Lee Bendolphs “Blocks and Strips” quilt in white, red, and black corduroy.

Get Creative at Home: Design a Quilt Pattern with Inspiration from Mary Lee Bendolph’s Work Clothes Quilt

Learn about Gee’s Bend quilter Mary Lee Bendolph, and dream up a quilt you’d like to lay on the bed—or hang on the wall.

By Melissa Katzin, Manager of Family Programs, and Meg Williams, Coordinator of School and Teacher Services, High Museum of Art

Mary Lee Bendolph is an American quilt maker — and she’s also one of the community memory keepers in her hometown of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. The women of Gee’s Bend have created hundreds of quilts for generations throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Gee’s Bend was named after Joseph Gee, who built a plantation there in the early 1800s. The Gee family sold the plantation to Mark Pettway in 1845, and most present-day residents, including many of the Gee’s Bend quilters, are descendants of enslaved people from the former Pettway plantation. The small community is home to about seven hundred residents.

Bendolph has created many quilts, including this one titled Blocks and Strips. This striking quilt, along with many of her other quilts, was made from pieces of work clothes. Bendolph used corduroy to make this quilt, and she has made others using cotton, denim, and polyester.

Look closely at Blocks and Strips. Bendolph created the quilt not intending it to be used on a bed but for aesthetic purposes. Do you have a quilt, or have you seen one before? How is Blocks and Strips different from other quilts you have seen? How is it similar?

Bendolph met fellow Alabama artist Thornton Dial, Sr., when he visited Gee’s Bend in 2001. Dial was an artist living in Bessemer, Alabama, and he created sculptural installations, many with objects that he had found and repurposed.

Dial created multiple works honoring the master craftswomen of Gee’s Bend, including his work Mrs. Bendolph in tribute to Mary Lee Bendolph.

Look closely at Mrs. Bendolph and Blocks and Strips.

How are these two works of art different? How are they similar? Consider the materials each artist used — both Bendolph and Dial used materials that they had found or repurposed. Think about how each artist made their work — Bendolph sewing pieces of fabric together and Dial layering fabric with canvas, wood, and paint. Would you consider both works to be quilted?

Get Creative at Home

Create your own quilt design! Bendolph’s Blocks and Strips is made from squares and rectangles of red, white, and black fabric arranged in an asymmetrical pattern.

On a piece of paper, sketch out your quilt pattern. Do you want your quilt to be symmetrical? What shapes will make up your pattern?

Once you’ve sketched out your pattern, use crayons, markers, or colored pencils to color your quilt.

Are you currently teaching or homeschooling? Scroll for corresponding Georgia Standards of Excellence.

Relevant Georgia Education Standards (Grades K–5)

This project addresses Georgia Standards of Excellence in Visual Arts for grades K–5 by helping students develop manual dexterity and fine motor skills through drawing, as well as explore spatial concepts and basic color theory.

VAK-5.CR.3 Understand and apply media, techniques, and processes of two-dimensional art.

This project also addresses Georgia Standards of Excellence in Mathematics for grades 4 and 5 by reinforcing ideas of symmetry versus asymmetry, pattern recognition, and pattern creation.

MGSE4.G.3 Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures, and draw lines of symmetry.
MGSE4.OA.5 Generate a number or shape pattern that follows a given rule. Identify apparent features of the pattern that were not explicit in the rule itself. Explain informally why the pattern will continue to develop in this way.

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