Quilt Maker Marlene Bennett Jones Connects with Her Past Through Pieces of Fabric

Quilt Maker Marlene Bennett Jones Connects with Her Past Through Pieces of Fabric
Photo courtesy of Nina Johnson
“​​This art should be passed down to the younger generation and never be a lost art,” says 74-year-old quilt maker Marlene Bennett Jones.

The humble art of quiltmaking may remind you of when your grandmother patched something up for you or an old blanket folded up in a closet somewhere. But to the women of Gee’s Bend (officially known as Boykin, Alabama), quilts mean much more. Now, for the first time, Miami gets a chance to witness the cultural tradition through Jones' work.

At the age of 8, when Jones sat down with her mother and learned how to quilt, she may have been surprised to see where the hobby would take her. After not quilting for some time, Jones returned to the art form once more about 20 years ago with the illness and death of her first teacher, her mother. It has since become a form of therapy for the artist.

“Quilting is therapeutic and my mental yoga," Jones says. "The variety of colors and design comes together. I even take needles and thread with me on road trips. This is my therapy, 24/7.”

Indeed, as all the women of Gee’s Bend can tell you, these quilts go beyond art.

Appropriately titled, "I don’t ever want it to be a lost art," the exhibition on view through November 20 at Nina Johnson, features 15 of the artist’s recent works.

“This exhibition is a way to preserve the unique art of quilting,” Jones notes.

In the 19th Century, enslaved women of the rural community of Gee’s Bend gathered scraps of clothes, cloths, or anything that worked to create quilts for themselves and their families. What was born out of necessity became a rich cultural tradition and, eventually, a respected art form.
Photo courtesy of Nina Johnson
In 1966, amid the civil-rights movement, the Black women of Gee’s Bend used their skills for economic leverage, calling themselves the Freedom Quilting Bee. Sharing their quilts with others brought them recognition, as the bright colors, intricate patterns, and unique qualities were more widely seen and appreciated. Recognized for its free-form style, the group has had its work displayed at institutions including New York City's Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The work on display at Nina Johnson has been selected to showcase the essence of who Jones is and how her quilts affect the viewer.

"Each quilt has its own unique distinctive history or purpose, either through creativity or feelings my mind creates what you see before you — a masterpiece," Jones says.

From their patterns to their colors and fabrics, the quilts highlight the labor and passion of generations of Gee’s Bend women. And many years after being taught as a young girl, Jones can showcase that tradition.

“To share my art with the world was my biggest passion," she says. "The fabric I have chosen introduces a purpose and quality of uniqueness to the consumer.”

"I don't ever want it to be a lost art." On view through Saturday, November 20, at Nina Johnson, 6315 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-571-2288; Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Ashley-Anna Aboreden is a Miami native and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She is an English graduate from FIU and is currently receiving her MFA in creative writing at the New School. She has an everlasting love for shih tzus (especially hers), chocolate chip cookies, and vintage books.