1930 - 2003

Annie Bell Pettway

Boykin, Alabama
About

Mother of innovative quiltmaker Belinda Pettway, Annie Bell Pettway is the daughter of Cherokee Pettway, one of the artistic Parker sisters (the others were Clementine and Nell). Their Sodom family was photographed extensively by Arthur Rothstein and Marion Post Wolcott.

My daddy was named Clement Pettway; my mama, Cherokee Pettway. She was a Parker. I grew up right here in this community. I had a rough young life. My father got down sick when I was six years old, and I was next to the oldest. Eddie Lee was the oldest. He was seven then, and we had to hoe and pick cotton, knock cotton stalks, strip the corn stalks for fodder for the cows, pull corn and everything, 'cause my mama had to be with my daddy—he was flat on his back and couldn't do nothing for himself. Eddie Lee and me had to support the family. When we get to the field we had to tote water, go in the woods and get wood to cook on the wood stove. We had to feed the hogs, cows, and things. I did not enjoy it. I stayed sick all the time, and it was rough. We'd go to school after we finish the crop and everything. In November we'd start, till about the last of January, and then we'd have to start back in the field.

I got married when I was eighteen, one day from nineteen. My husband, John L., was twenty-one. We was raised up together. He was the onliest boyfriend I had. We had seven children. Four boys—two live here and two in Connecticut. My oldest son is a minister up there. Three girls. Belinda live here, one in Georgia, and the other one in New York.

I been doing quilts all my life. You had to do that to keep warm in those old wood plank houses. You could see the ground through the floor. You could look outside through the wall. It really got cold in there. My mother taught me to make quilts out of old raggly pant legs. That's all we had. Mama made a lot of them and we'd help her quilt them. I started piecing quilts when I was six years old. I had to start doing everything then. Piecing, cooking, working in the fields. Had to. When my girls was young, I taught them what my mama taught me to do—quilt, cook, clean, wash, everything. They had to work in the fields too, but not like I did. But they worked in the fields. All of them. That's all we had to do in Gee's Bend. Work in the fields.

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend

This uplifting, Emmy-winning PBS film tells the modern-day "Cinderalla" story of the quiltmakers of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Artists born into extreme poverty, they live to see their quilts hailed by a The New York Times art critic as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."