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Mary Lee Bendolph
Mary Lee Bendolph, American, born 1935
Blocks, Strips, Strings, and Half-Squares Quilt
84 x 81 inches (213.4 x 205.7 cm)
Collection of the Tinwood Alliance
Photo by Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio, Rockford, Illinois

Mary Lee Bendolph

I can walk outside and look around in the yard and see ideas all around the front and back of my house. —Mary Lee Bendolph

The seventh of sixteen children, Mary Lee Bendolph has spent her entire life in Gee’s Bend. She learned how to quilt from her mother, Aolar. Bendolph gave birth to her first child at age fourteen, which prevented her from attending school beyond sixth grade. She married Rubin Bendolph in 1955 and their family grew to include eight children. Over the years, she has worked in a variety of textile-related jobs, mostly making army uniforms. Since retiring in 1992, Bendolph has found more time to quilt. She gathers design ideas by looking at the world around her. Anything—from people’s clothes at church, to her barn, to quilts hanging on clotheslines in front yards, to how the land looks when she’s high above it in an airplane—can inspire her. For her materials, she prefers fabric cut from used clothing because it avoids wastefulness and because she appreciates the “love and spirit” in old cloth.

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