"Housetop" medallion

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
77 x 73 inches
Collection of
The Dallas Museum of Art
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Viewing the quiltmaking tradition of Gee's Bend as a kind of artistic “inheritance,” Louisiana Bendolph has created a new generation of patchworks that explore and reshape the aesthetic practices of her community. As if rethinking the very structures of standard quilt designs, her patterns often break apart into fields of fractured forms that, both literally and figuratively, end up off the grid. In this “Housetop" variation, red and white bars explode into a random collage of shards, becoming virtually patternless. To create such imagery, Louisiana often cuts apart an existing quilt and reworks its fragments into another patchwork, a physical act that becomes a potent metaphor for her deconstruction of familiar quiltmaking conventions.

While seeming to be a new phenomenon, Louisiana's reconceptualization of Gee’s Bend quilt patterns is merely a more pronounced version of an old custom in the Bend. For the women there have always borrowed and embellished, revised and reinvented the patchwork designs of one another and the quiltmakers who preceded them. Within the parlance of African American vernacular culture, this practice of improvising off the established texts of earlier markers is called “signifying,” a dialogic process of “call and response” in which an individual challenges or pushes beyond past discursive boundaries. —Joanne Cubbs