1904 - 1972

Annie E. Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

Annie E. Pettway was born June 18, 1904, one of the ten children born to Austin H. and Leetha Pettway. She married Ed O. Pettway, and they had nine children. Ed O., who had been born a Williams, had his name changed to Pettway when his family moved to the area known as Pettway, on the site of the former Pettway Plantation in Gee's Bend. Annie E. Pettway spent her life working in the fields and raising her growing family, which would eventually include numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. She pieced and quilted quilts and also taught her daughters and granddaughters how to quilt. Her family continues to live in the same homestead she established almost seventy five years ago and her progeny, including Rita Mae Pettway and Louisiana Bendolph, continue to carry on the quilting traditions Annie E. Pettway helped to establish.

Deputy Sheriff Willie Quill Pettway remembers his mother, Annie E. Pettway.


She was born June 18, 1904. Her parents were Austin H. and Leetha Pettway. She had seven brothers and two sisters. She was married to Ed O.—they said Pettway, but he was a Williams. They changed his name to Pettway because he was living on the Pettway place, and they had to change their name as long as they stay on the place. So, when they took up the census, that’s what he kept his name: Pettway. His father was Ottoway Williams. He had changed his name to Pettway, too. My parents had five boys and four girls. My mama was a housewife and a field worker. She was picking cotton, hoeing, pulling corn, something like that. Pulling up peanuts and planting peanuts. Everything you can say on the farm, she did, but she didn’t plow. Some of the women plowed, but not my mama. We didn’t have no mules or nothing. The only man who had mules was the man who owned the place we living on. So, we got a bull and quit using the mule. That mule will plow along, and take a break and lay down under a tree, and you can’t get him up until he’s ready. He get hot, and he going to move, move to the shade.

We was walking about two miles and a half to the fields, and coming back about twelve o’clock to see about the baby, and two miles and a half back to the fields. Work until it’s time to cook supper.

Mama go to the fields with a pot and put on peas that morning, and every time she’d make a round she’d push the fire up under that pot, and that evening we’d have supper already done. When we knock off that evening, we bring the pot in the house, and nothing to do but fix the food. Didn’t have no good peas unless you do it that way.

My mama pieced quilts. She had to. She was piecing them in the house. My mama taught my sisters how to quilt. All my sisters know just how to make a quilt. And my sisters’ daughters know what to do with a quilt.

Creation Story explores parallels and intersections in the works of Dial and his fellow Alabamians, the remarkable quilters of Gee’s Bend. In the tradition of African American cemetery constructions and yard art, these artists harness the tactile properties and symbolic associations of cast-off materials in creating an art of profound beauty and evocative power.

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.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
June 8, 2019 to September 2, 2019

The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South, an exhibition including paintings, sculptures, and quilts that celebrates the recent acquisition of 24 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

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."