(Left) Loretta Bennett (b. 1960), United States, Blues, 2007, color soft ground etching with aquatint and spitbite aquatint, Museum Purchase: David C. Herriman Trust, by exchange and Print Deaccession Funds, 2018.171. Copyright of the artist, courtesy of Paulson Fontaine Press
(Right) Loretta Pettway (b. 1942), United States, Lazy Gal, 2009, color soft ground and hard ground etching with aquatint and spitbite aquatint, Museum Purchase with funds provided by the Woman’s Committee, 2019.89. Copyright of the artist, courtesy of Paulson Fontaine Press
Mary Lee Bendolph, Loretta Pettway, Louisiana Bendolph and Loretta Bennett are quilters from Gee’s Bend, a small, rural African American community, surround on three sides by the Alabama River. They are the descendants of enslaved people and several generations of tenant farmers. These women have shared an old and proud tradition of colorful and expressive quilt designs made for home and family that hark back to the mid-nineteenth century. Since the 1930s the women have been gathering to make quilts, developing their own artistic vocabularies with the medium’s traditions, influencing each other, and ultimately developing a shared style of improvisation that defies conventional quilt making.
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 where several generations of women in the same family bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages.
In 2002–2003, the exhibition Quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York brought national attention to the Gee’s Bend artists. Today their quilts created out of necessity using recycled worn-out clothing, feed sacks and fabric remnants are prized for their artisanship and ingenuity. Here, their improvisational designs have been translated with the assistance of Paulson Fontaine Press, Berkeley, California, into stunning prints in the time-honored tradition of intaglio printmaking.
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