1909 - 1993

Arie Pettway

Boykin, Alabama
About

One of the most active and influential quiltmakers in Gee's Bend was Arie Pettway, who recalls here her experiences during her early years.

Nobody taught me. Me and a first cousin and my sister, we just used to get together and whatever rags us found, we stuck 'em together. And you know how we got the pretty patterns? My daddy would work across the river in the white folks' yards, and he'd always bring newspaper home to paper the house for Christmas, and us see them different puzzles and things in the newspapers. Us would set down and cut up some cloth, make something like that puzzle in the newspaper and name it whatever us wanted to name it. . . .

We weren't sellin' none. Just makin' 'em for fun. Learn how to do somethin'. See, we didn't know how to do anything but roam the woods and hunt blackberries and other things, and tote wood, wash, iron, somethin' I hate, and work in the fields. That was all we knew. . . .

One thing I'll tell you. I have went out there on people's woodpile where I see they had a good-lookin' piece, picked it up and washed it and put it in a quilt. . . .

I got a pair of overalls hanging on the wire right now. My husband's overalls. I'm goin' take 'em and wash 'em, and rip 'em up and make me a "Lazy Gal" quilt. That's another name of quilt, "Lazy Gal" . . . Got two tore straight strips, just like that bench straight yonder, and sew 'em together. But every strip different.

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.

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."