1928 - 2013

Annie Mae Young

Alberta, Alabama

When I was growing up, I went to school but didn't get to but seventh grade. I had to walk about eight miles to school. We used to get there and go around picking up trash to put in the old heater to keep us warm. As I grow on up, I got married when I was about sixteen, and started to raising children and working hard in the fields.

I was born in 1928, way out where at that time they call Primrose; later on, the part I lived on they called Young's Place. The boss man owned that land, Herbert Hall Wilkinson. Lula Pettway was my mother; Albert Pettway was my father. They farmed cotton, corn, peas, sweet potatoes. My daddy raised a lot of sorghum cane for syrup. I lived in a log-cabin house with about twelve of us children. We used to plaster the house walls with magazines and used to make our sheets out of fertilizer sacks. I just played a lot when I was little. Some of my brothers and sisters worked the fields, but they never did make me do that. They had me to do washing, cooking, cleaning up. The best part of the old days for me was playing baseball out in the fields. I was the best batter on the team. I run good, played good. Used to walk down to Gee's Bend to play against the girls down there. Everybody want to get Annie Mae to play. "She's good." I used to help Mama work in the garden, raising collard greens, raising chickens. I love to raise chickens now, too. I used to love to ride the mule. We had a pet mule, name of Ollie, used to let us get up and ride his back. I used to could plow like a man. Once I was grown, I could always work my crop out good, get finished, and go help other people. Always was smart, loved to be doing something and helping somebody.

I was staying with my mama when I first started to quilting. My daddy brought me some cloth from Camden where they was giving it away. I didn't cut it up or nothing; just quilted it like it was. I started cutting and piecing cloth when I was about thirteen, fourteen, something like that. I always wanted to be like a little lady, do pretty things. I was using dress tails, tear them up and put them together, anything I could find. I used the old pants legs from my brother Gaston clothes. That was about all I had back then, old dress tails and pants legs.

I never did like the book patterns some people had. Those things had too many little bitty blocks. I like big pieces and long strips. However I get them, that's how I used them. I liked to sew them however they be. I work it out, study the way to make it, get it to be right, kind of like working a puzzle. You find the colors and the shapes and certain fabrics that work out right. I always like cotton, but not the other stuff too much. Didn't like silk, or crepe, and didn't use wool much. I stayed with what I started with: old clothes that I could tear up. It always come out level.

When they open up the quilting bee up there, they didn't want the kind of sewing and piecing I do, and I didn't like what they was doing. They had to do things too particular, too careful, too many little blocks. So I never did have nothing to do with them. My sister Mattie Ross worked up at the bee. They say she was one of the best ones up there.

My husband, Lucius Young, and me had nine head of children—six boys and three girls. We lived down toward Gee's Bend but not that far. He got killed in a car wreck in 1970. We didn't get along so good anyway. He treated me bad with other women.

After he died, I worked down at Gastonburg for a white family—cooked and did housework. I did that about four years. I enjoyed it. We got along. When I stopped, they didn't want me to stop.

I have had a life that I would describe as good and bad. But it's pretty good now. I can go to church now with my daughter; don't have to walk. Used to have to walk so far and carry little children, so lot of the time I didn't go. And I love church and don't want to go nowhere but to church. I sing in choir. I have a group. I go out to sing at different churches. We are called the Supreme Angels. My daughter Nellie is in the group, and granddaughter Erma, and great-granddaughter Shaquetta.

I used to love to quilt. Love it. Piece quilts and get them done. But my hands got me now. Arthritis. I can't use them. I did one last year and my hands started to bothering me right toward the end. I got done with it but haven't done no more. I plan to get alright again, with the Lord's help, and I'll be back.

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.

For a new exhibition launching at the National Gallery of Art, curator Lynne Cooke explores shifting conceptualizations of the American outlier across the 20th century, drawing on the inherent sociality of the exhibition in her installation of these works. This companion catalog, "Outliers and American Vanguard Art," offers a fantastic opportunity to consider works by schooled and self-taught creators in relation to each other and defined by historical circumstance.

While the artists featured in this groundbreaking catalog were born in the Jim Crow period of institutionalized racism, their works embody the promise and attainment of freedom in the modern Civil Rights era and address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and spirituality. Originally created as expressions of individual identity and communal solidarity, these eloquent objects are powerful testaments to the continuity and survival of African American culture. This gorgeous book features lush illustrations of works by artists such as Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, Purvis Young, and the Gee's Bend quilters--including Gearldine Westbrook, Jessie T. Pettway, and more--and presents a series of insightful essays.

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.

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 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.

Turner Contemporary
February 7, 2020 to September 6, 2020

We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK and reveals a little-known history shaped by the Civil Rights period in the 1950s and 60s. It will bring together sculptural assemblages, paintings and quilts by more than 20 African American artists from Alabama and surrounding states.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
May 22 - September 23, 2018

This exhibition will present 30 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and quilts by self-taught contemporary African American artists to celebrate the 2014 gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art of works of art from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

National Gallery of Art
January 28, 2018 to May 13, 2018

Self-taught artists—variously termed folk, primitive, visionary, naïve, and outsider—have played a significant role in the history of modernism, yet their contributions have been largely disregarded or forgotten. Again and again in the United States during the past century, vanguard artists found affinities and inspiration in the work of their untutored, marginalized peers and became staunch advocates, embracing them as fellow artists.

de Young Museum
June 3, 2017 to April 1, 2018

"Revelations: Art from the African American South" celebrates the debut of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco major acquisition from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta of 62 works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States.

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."

The Quilts of Gee's Bend

The Quilts of Gee's Bend documentary accompanies the major exhibitions of Gee's Bend quilts. Set in the quiltmaker's homes and yard, and told through the women's voices, this music-filled, 28-minute documentary takes viewers inside the art and fascinating living history of a uniquely American community and art form.