1900 - 1981

Annie Bendolph

Boykin, Alabama

Bettie Bendolph Seltzer, Boykin's postmaster and daughter-in-law of quiltmaker Sue Willie Seltzer, remembers her mother, Annie Bendolph, one of Arthur Rothstein's favorite subjects during his 1937 photographic documentation of Gee's Bend.

My mama was a hardworking woman, all I know. Had sixteen heads of children and kept us all working hard in the field. All they know to do back there was have children and go to the field. She learned all of them how to work and take care of themselves. Carried every one of us to church every Sunday. She was a good neighbor to peoples—always giving.

Used to love to cook teacake and share with the community. Every weekend, children visit each other house, and she feed every one of them. She was a real good mother. All us thought so. Papa used to drink a lot, so she carried on the family.


Working so hard, barefoot in the field, in the rain and the cold, having children about every two years, she took real sick. She was in and out of the hospital. She'd be sick, she'd get better. Be sick, get better. But she still work. Saturday we work in the field, her and us children, too. Come home and start washing and ironing clothes for church. Sunday everyone is going to church clean, but stump-bare feet. Don't none of us have a shoe.

She didn't know much about her family. They told her that her mother died when she was a baby. She had a brother named Timothy Pettway. He was a singer—gospel singer sang in churches and lived over in Camden. He used to come across the river on his boat, two people paddling—one on one side, one on the other. Him and his children come to see us, and bring food and clothes sometimes. He come to the river sometimes and pick me and my brothers and nephews up, and paddle us over to pick cotton with him over there in Rosemary. We just helping 'cause he's helping Mama. We didn't ever get paid. I was the only little girl; rest were boys. My mama had sisters, come sometimes to see us, but they wasn't living around here.

When I was growing up, Mama made quilts to keep us warm. The ladies then piece their quilts at home and go to each other house to help quilt. At the start all they was making them out was old clothes, pants, fertilizer sacks, dress tails, and meal and flour sacks, too. That's it. They had to beat the cotton to pad it out to put it in the quilt. Their husband or friend or neighbor bring cotton from the gin for the ladies to quilt with. Later on, coming down through the years, there was places they'd go and get scraps from factories that was giving it to them, but they have to hire somebody to go pick up the scraps. That's when the quilts started becoming more up-to-date.

I always wanted to be like my mama—hardworking, having something of my own. She was so independent. But I never wanted to have to go through what she went through. She started me to piecing up quilts when I was about ten. The first one, I made it with some old dress tails and old britches legs. It wasn't till I started at the quilting bee around 1977 that I started using good cloth. I never used that old-clothes stuff again. It's too tough to sew. Sometimes you hit the bottom, sometimes you didn't. Once you get your fingers on good material, you can quilt more easier and more better.

A new consideration of extraordinary art created by self-taught Black artists during the mid-20th century​. My Soul Has Grown Deep considers the art-historical significance of self-taught Black artists, many working under conditions of poverty and isolation, in the American South. It features paintings and drawings, mixed-media and sculptural works, and quilts, including pieces ranging from the pioneering paintings of Thornton Dial (1928–2016) to the renowned quilts made in Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

This book and exhibition are part of a growing family of research projects about the African American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and its quilts. Surrounded on three sides by a river, Gee’s Bend developed a distinctive local culture and quilt design aesthetic. In 2002 the inaugural exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documented these quiltmaking achievements. Expanding upon that initial exhibition and its accompanying publications, Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt offers a deeper look into the women and their art, and a more focused investigation into the nature and inspirations—and future—of the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition.

The women of Gee’s Bend—a small, remote, black community in Alabama—have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend tells the story of this town and its art.

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.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
June 4 – September 4, 2006

"Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt" features seventy spectacular quilts made by four generations of women in Gee's Bend, a small, isolated African American community in southwest Alabama. With bold improvisation of traditional quilt motifs, these women have created a style all their own. Made between the 1930s and the present, the Gee's Bend quilts’ bright patterns, inventive color combinations, lively irregularities and unexpected compositional variations make them outstanding examples of modern art.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
September 6 – November 10, 2002

"The Quilts of Gee’s Bend" celebrates the artistic legacy of four generations of African-American women from a small, historically all-black community in rural southern Alabama. This exhibition of over sixty extraordinary quilts that were made between 1930 and 2000 showcases a body of work that is bold, spirited, moving, and hailed by Michael Kimmelman, in The New York Times, as “some of the most miraculous works of art America has produced.”

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."