1923 - 2008

Arlonzia Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

I worked on the farm with my brother Ike. He runned the farm after Daddy passed in 1941. I had started working in the field when I was twelve. I did all the usual stuff people do on a farm. I was twenty years old when I married Jennie Pettway’s son, Bizzell. He was a farmer, too. Everybody was a farmer in those days. I had twelve children—four girls and eight boys. Everybody had the same crops in Gee’s Bend the first ten years we farm: cotton, corn, peas, sweet potatoes. After that, we started raising turnips and cucumbers to sell to some company in Montgomery. We did that for five or six years. After that, my husband went to New York to work on a farm where they were picking peas. He done all kinds of different things up there for three years straight. He’d go last of June and stay until September.


Everybody had a log cabin when I was young. Every family built their own log cabin. The family would get together; all the men would help. About seven or eight men would get together to build a house. They would do it for each other for nothing. You didn’t have to do nothing but cook some food for them. But that was before I was born. That’s what my daddy tell me that’s what they do. And they went from one place to another. If you needed something, they do it for you—no charge.

At first, we had a log cabin with just two rooms to it. We lived in that cabin until I was seventeen years old. Then the government came along and gave us the project houses. We had three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dining room. I added three or four more rooms to this house, and two bathrooms—we didn’t have no indoor plumbing. I got running water in here in 1974. I got electricity in here before my husband passed, I believe about 1964. My first telephone was around 1976.

I used to like to make some of everything. I made TV cabinets, made me a bed about fifteen years ago, bookshelf, planters that I use outdoors. A man gave me a buoy out of the river, and I put a car wheel rim on it and made a flowerpot. I knew how to do things. When I was nine years old, I made my sister a dress and me a dress out of blue taffeta cloth. My mama saw those two dresses and thought they was bought made. She showed those dresses off to everybody. I just had a head for doing anything. It was just born in me to make things.

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 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.

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."