1942 -

Mary L. Bennett

Boykin, Alabama

A granddaughter of Delia Bennett (1892–1976), ancestor of many quiltmakers in Gee’s Bend, Mary L. Bennett pieces primarily “Housetop” and “Bricklayer” compositions and imaginative variations of them.

I was born down here in Brown Quarters in 1942 and got raised by my grandmother Delia Bennett. My mother was Lucille, Reverend Bennett’s sister. Daddy was Finest Major.

I started out working in the fields—I ought to been about ten or eleven—hoeing, picking cotton, pulling corn, stripping millet, digging sweet potatoes, picking squashes and cucumbers, and putting them in the crocus sacks for my uncle Stalling Bennett, my grandmother’s son. He taken all that to sell up to the main canning factory up in Uniontown. I didn’t get no schooling—every now and then a day here and there. After my granddaddy and them died, we didn’t do no more farming. I ain’t did much since then. I still live over in Brown.

Didn’t nobody teach me to make quilts. I just learned it by myself, about twelve or thirteen. I was seeing my grandmama piecing it up, and then I start. I just taken me some pieces and put it together, piece them up till they look like I want them to look. That’s all.

Creation Story explores parallels and intersections in the works of Dial and his fellow Alabamians, the remarkable quilters of Gee’s Bend. In the tradition of African American cemetery constructions and yard art, these artists harness the tactile properties and symbolic associations of cast-off materials in creating an art of profound beauty and evocative power.

This book and exhibition are part of a growing family of research projects about the African American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and its quilts. Surrounded on three sides by a river, Gee’s Bend developed a distinctive local culture and quilt design aesthetic. In 2002 the inaugural exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documented these quiltmaking achievements. Expanding upon that initial exhibition and its accompanying publications, Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt offers a deeper look into the women and their art, and a more focused investigation into the nature and inspirations—and future—of the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition.

The women of Gee’s Bend—a small, remote, black community in Alabama—have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend tells the story of this town and its art.

Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
June 4 – September 4, 2006

"Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt" features seventy spectacular quilts made by four generations of women in Gee's Bend, a small, isolated African American community in southwest Alabama. With bold improvisation of traditional quilt motifs, these women have created a style all their own. Made between the 1930s and the present, the Gee's Bend quilts’ bright patterns, inventive color combinations, lively irregularities and unexpected compositional variations make them outstanding examples of modern art.