Lucy Mingo

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Lucy Mingo
Lucy Marie Young

Boykin, Alabama, United States
Known forQuilting
Notable work
Chestnut Bud
MovementFreedom Quilting Bee
Gee's Bend Collective

Lucy Marie (Young) Mingo (born 1931) is an American quilt maker and member of the Gee's Bend Collective from Gee's Bend (Boykin), Alabama. She was an early member of the Freedom Quilting Bee, which was an alternative economic organization created in 1966 to raise the socio-economic status of African-American communities in Alabama. She was also among the group of citizens who accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Mingo is a recipient of a 2015 National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts in the United States.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lucy Young was born in 1931 in Rehoboth, Alabama,[2] a settlement near Gee's Bend to Ethel and Earl Young.[3] Her nickname is "Toot".[4] Her father was a sharecropper who also worked as a longshoreman in Mobile, Alabama which required him to be away from the family for long periods of time. Lucy and her siblings worked the fields growing corn, peas, potatoes, peanuts, and cotton[3] to earn a meager living.[5]

Mingo went to Boykin elementary school, and at age 13 was sent to the Allen Institute in Mobile. After graduation from Allen, she moved back to Boykin and married David Mingo in 1949, at age 17.[3] She and David had ten children, seven of them daughters but only one of her children (Polly) quilts.[2]

She is a fourth-generation quilter, with her mother, grandmother, and older close family friend all inspiring her and teaching her their art. She pieced her first quilt top at the age of fourteen.


Non-quilt making career[edit]

After she married, Mingo returned to farm labor and continued there until 1965. She then worked as a cook in the school cafeteria for ten years, but was laid off. She worked in Selma for a year, and then got a job as a homemaking educator for the Auburn University extension service for more than 20 years, teaching people how to cook, can, and freeze.[5][6] She retired at age 69, after her mother became ill.[3]

Like many women in Gee's Bend, Mingo squeezed in quilting time after completing work at her other jobs.[7]

Freedom Quilting Bee[edit]

Mingo was a founding member of the Freedom Quilting Bee (FQB),[2][7] which began during the Civil Rights Movement. Their quilts were sold across the United States and brought much-needed money back to the Gee's Bend economy. Mingo had a reputation within the Bee as an excellent teacher, and one of her specialties was the "Chestnut Bud" which had a deep-seated history in Wilcox County, Alabama, but at the time Mingo claimed she was the only member of the FQB who knew how to make that quilt, so she taught her fellow members the details of that pattern.[2] Two of Mingo's black-and-white Chestnut Buds were sold via the Bee to Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland. Estelle Witherspoon, the Bee's first manager, and Mingo led a twelve-woman team that produced a Chestnut Bud quilt, sofa cover, and drapes for CBS chairman William S. Paley and his wife.[7]

The women of the FQB were very aware of and many were active in the civil rights movement. Members of the FQB heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Gee's Bend in 1965 and many of them, including Mingo, were inspired to register to vote as a result. Mingo says she "marched in Montgomery and over the Pettus Bridge, but I wasn't in the one with John Lewis"[3] and she avoided getting arrested because she had children. Mingo was considered "one of Gee's Bend's leading spokespersons during the civil rights era".[7]

The Bee was founded in part to provide employment to women who had who lost work when they took a stand for civil rights and registered to vote, which happened to Lucy Mingo.[8] At one point, the Bee was the largest employer in the town of Rehoboth.[9]

The Freedom Quilting Bee's numbers declined in the 1990s due to an aging membership, plus weather damage to their community space. After the death of the last original board member, the Bee officially closed in 2012.[10]

Gee's Bend Collective[edit]

Lucy Mingo made this pieced quilt in 1979. It includes a nine-patch center block surrounded by pieced strips. Collection of Bill Volckening, Portland, Oregon.

Mingo quilted as a member of both the Freedom Quilting Bee and the Gee's Bend Collective, which had similar economic missions and some overlapping membership. The FQB, however, required the quilters to use standardized patterns to make the quilts more marketable, while the Collective members are allowed artistic freedom in the design and execution of their quilts. The work and artistry of the Collective gained national attention in 2002 when an exhibition of seventy of the women's quilts was assembled by folk art collector and art historian William Arnett and his Tinwood Alliance in conjunction with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The exhibition called "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" traveled to ten other museums around the country, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. An article about the Whitney exhibition in The New York Times brought even more national attention to the artistry of the Gee's Bend quilts, when the reviewer wrote that the quilts "turn out to be some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced".[11]

Mingo's contribution to the 2002 exhibition was in the area of "work clothes" turned into quilts. In her early years, Mingo frequently used old denim and cotton shirts worn during field work as material for her quilts. Mingo said about these quilts, "You know, we had hard times. We worked in the fields, we picked cotton, and sometimes we had it and sometimes we didn't. And so you look at your quilt and you say 'This is some of the old clothes I wore in the fields. I wore them out, but they still doing good.' "[4]

The attention and praise the Gee's Bend Collective members received from the art world as the 2002 exhibit toured the country surprised them. Mingo said "When we see our quilts in museums, we're just amazed. We never thought quilts would get there."[8] Mingo also said about the effect of the exhibition: "Yes, they are about history because quilts have been here all the time. But in another way, these quilts just became history because before they were hidden in the closets and on the bed mattresses. When you take them out, they become history. Until quilts made history, people weren't paying attention. Now, everyone wants to see your quilts; they want to know what you're making."[4]

Following the success of the 2002 exhibition, Mingo was often hired as leading quiltmaking instructor at events across the USA.[6] In addition, the prices for her quilts increased dramatically. Before working at the Freedom Quilting Bee, Mingo's quilts would sell for about $5.00. A 2008 quilting identification and price book includes a Mingo quilt made in 2004 valued at "more than $5,000".[12]

In 2006, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Tinwood Alliance mounted a second exhibition titled "Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt" that included works by Mingo. That exhibition's itinerary included eight museums throughout the United States.[4]

Mingo was one of two Gee's Bend Collective quilt makers featured in a 2014 episode titled "Industry" of the PBS television series Craft in America.[13]

In 2014, it was reported that because she is over 80 years old, Mingo rarely makes new quilts anymore.[14] But her quilts are still included in exhibitions, including the 2017 Outsider Art Fair held in New York City.[15] In May 2018, Mingo traveled to New York City to attend the opening of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled "History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation" that included some of Mingo's quilts, as well as others from the Gee's Bend Collective.[16]


Mingo's quilts have been included in museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the USA, including:[4][6][7]

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ a b "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2015". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Freeman, Roland L. (1996). A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press. pp. 335–336. ISBN 1-55853-425-3. OCLC 34943313.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Lucy Mingo". Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Arnett, Paul; Cubbs, Joanne; Metcalf, Jr., Eugene W., eds. (2006). Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. Atlanta, GA: Tinwood Books. pp. 22, 75–76. ISBN 978-0-9719104-5-4. OCLC 70919911.
  5. ^ a b c "Mary Lee Bendolph, Lucy Mingo and Loretta Pettway". Documentary Arts. 2017. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "NEA Heritage Fellowships: Mary Lee Bendolph, Lucy Mingo, and Loretta Pettway". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e Beardsley, John; Arnett, William; Arnett, Paul; Livingston, Jane (2002). Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts. Atlanta, GA: Tinwood Books, in association with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. pp. 220, 280–281. ISBN 0-9719104-0-5. OCLC 51268249.
  8. ^ a b "Now They Call It Art". AARP. 2004. Archived from the original on 2004-11-03. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  9. ^ Beardsley, John; Arnett, William; Arnett, Paul; Livingston, Jane (2002). The Quilts of Gee's Bend. Atlanta, GA: Tinwood Books, in association with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. p. 12. ISBN 0-9653766-4-8. OCLC 51172928.
  10. ^ Callahan, Nancy (August 8, 2008). "Freedom Quilting Bee". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  11. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (November 29, 2002). "ART REVIEW: Jazzy Geometry, Cool Quilters". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  12. ^ Gordon, Maggi McCormick (2008). Warman's Vintage Quilts: Identification and Price Guide. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 240. ISBN 978-089689-687-1.
  13. ^ "Craft in America: Industry". 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Invest in quilts without leaving home or breaking the bank: Collector Bill Volckening". April 11, 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  15. ^ Frank, Priscilla (January 20, 2017). "The Outsider Art Fair Is The Right Art World Event For Inauguration Weekend". Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  16. ^ a b High, Rachel (July 16, 2018). "Art on Its Own Terms: Author Amelia Peck on Gee's Bend Quilts in My Soul Has Grown Deep". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  17. ^ "Quilts by Rita Mae Pettway and Lucy Mingo". Harper's Magazine. New York, NY. July 2, 2018. Retrieved 12 August 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Callahan, Nancy (1987). The Freedom Quilting Bee. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 9780817303105. OCLC 13332179. Includes a short chapter on Mingo, and a color photograph of the 1966 Chestnut Bud quilt in Diana Vreeland's New York City apartment.
  • Celia Carey (director and producer) (2004). The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend (DVD). Birmingham, AL: Alabama Public Television. OCLC 58594434. Retrieved 19 November 2017. Television documentary about the history of Gee's Bend and its quilters.

External links[edit]