100+ Gee’s Bend quilts destined for museum display

Souls Grown Deep announced on December 13, 2023, that it has been entrusted by artists Mary Lee Bendolph (b. 1933) and Essie Bendolph Pettway (b. 1956) to steward over 100 quilts made by them, with the express goal of their distribution to major collections. Together, their artworks are widely considered among the most inventive and fundamental examples of quiltmaking in Gee’s Bend, the home of “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced” (The New York Times).

Souls Grown Deep has, since the 2016 inception of its Collection Transfer Program, placed 175 quilts by 76 quiltmakers in the permanent collections of 34 museums, with the goal of celebrating the creative contributions of Gee’s Bend, Alabama within the canon of modern American art history and expanding the possibilities of scholarship shedding light on this influential community of artists.

Souls Grown Deep will seek to place the Bendolph works in major collections through its Collection Transfer Program.

Mary Lee Bendolph and her daughter Essie Bendolph Pettway are among the most highly regarded artists at work in Gee’s Bend today. They, together with Rubin Bendolph, Mary Lee’s son, have decided to entrust Souls Grown Deep with the disposition of the balance of their artworks—49 by Mary Lee Bendolph, and 56 by Essie Bendolph Pettway—out of a conviction that Souls Grown Deep is best equipped to represent their creativity in the public sphere. The majority of proceeds from the sale of their quilts will benefit the artists directly, together with a percentage earned through Souls Grown Deep’s Resale Royalty Award Program.

“Mary Lee, Essie and I are so excited about announcing our relationship with Souls Grown Deep,” Rubin Bendolph said. “SGD is ideally equipped to steward the placement of Mary Lee’s and Essie’s artworks, and we greatly value this important partnership, which we hope will be a model for other families.”

To date, Souls Grown Deep has transferred 16 works by Mary Lee Bendolph to museum permanent collections. Her work may be found in the permanent collections of:

  • Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
  • The Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX
  • Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
  • Palmer Museum of Art of the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
  • The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
  • Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
  • Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
  • Tate Modern, London, UK
  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Housetop variation, 1980, Cotton, polyester taffeta, and corduroy, 83 x 72 in.
Housetop variation, 1980, Cotton, polyester taffeta, and corduroy, 83 x 72 in. © Mary Lee Bendolph/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio

Mary Lee Bendolph’s work has been featured in multiple exhibitions, beginning with the seminal The Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibition (2002-2008), along with other solo and group shows presented at institutions including the National Gallery of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Turner Contemporary (Margate, England), and the Royal Academy of Arts (London, England).

Essie Bendolph Pettway’s works have been transferred by Souls Grown Deep to the permanent collections of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

“Having the Bendolph family’s trust is the ultimate evidence of our progress in following its mission,” sMaxwell L. Anderson, President of Souls Grown Deep, said. “There is no greater honor than being acknowledged by the artists for whom we advocate.”

About Souls Grown Deep

Souls Grown Deep advocates the inclusion of Black artists from the South in the canon of American art history, and fosters economic empowerment, racial and social justice, and educational advancement in the communities that gave rise to these artists. Founded by Atlanta collector William S. Arnett in 2010, Souls Grown Deep derives its name from a 1921 poem by Langston Hughes (1902–1967) titled The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last line of which is “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Souls Grown Deep stewards the largest and foremost collection of works by Black artists from the Southern United States, originally encompassing some 1,300 works by more than 160 artists, two-thirds of whom are women. To date, more than 500 works from SGD’s collection have been acquired by over 40 museums around the world through the Souls Grown Deep Collection Transfer Program.

Souls Grown Deep advances its mission through collection transfers, exhibitions, education, public programs, and publications.

For more information, visit soulsgrowndeep.org.

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