"On the surface, Mary Lee's river is just another plain brown river, skittering down the middle of the Deep South like a rain drop down a dirty window. But rivers have their faraway looks too. Slow, timid, her river typically keeps to itself, hiding between steep banks the color of blushing cheeks. On hot summer days it goes through the steaming fields the speed of a Model T, giving no sign of it's quick temper, no hint of the Indians, settlers, slaves and steamships strewn along it's floor, 40 feet down, all guarded by poisonous water moccasins and man-sized catfish and alligators that will bite a hound dog in half. No one....plays in the the Alabama River." ~ J.R. Moehringer from his Pulitzer winning article, Crossing Over in the Los Angeles Times 1999, in interview with Mary Lee Bendolph.
For the 2018 Bouquets to Art exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco I was assigned a quilt print titled "Patch" by a Gees Bend, Alabama matriarch quilter Mary Lee Bendolph. Bouquets to Art is an annual event at the museum in which floral designers are paired with an art piece and asked to convey it with botanical material . The colors in Patch were handsome, and the design abstract - it wasn't actually my favorite of Bendolph’s many wildly abstract and stunning works but it was something I could work with and I took it to heart. My interpretation of it wasn't about the romantic sensuality of the deep south and it's lush flowers. I mean Mississippi, has the Magnolia as their state tree, and Alabama has the pine. I thought quite a bit about what Mary Lee Bendolph's life and that of her slave ancestors might be like living on a patch of land surrounded on three sides by a tumultuous brown river in Southern Alabama. I looked up what might be growing such as reeds, grasses, and wild flowers along the river in Spring. I focused on the colors of the print as part of my subject matter. I added cotton as a symbol, hopefully not too clever ( I stained it with black tea for just the right shade of white) That navy blue doesn't exist in a flower - so I painted 60 stems of fern with spray paint. I'm not sure how successful my piece was this year - although I think a few got it. Of all things, I was able to find Poke Weed at the San Francisco Flower Market.