1957 - 2021

Belinda Pettway

Boykin, Alabama
About

By marrying Lonnie Lee Pettway (son of Joanna, grandson of Martha Jane, and nephew of Plummer T. Pettway), Belinda Pettway added the influence of a prominent Pettway quiltmaking family to the Parker heritage of her mother, Annie Bell Pettway.

I was born in 1957, down there where my mother stay. They call it John Pettway Road now, after my daddy. They call that part Sodom, been calling it that ever since I know myself. Most of all, when I was little I just did what all the other children used to do: pick cotton, cucumbers, squashes. My daddy sold them at the place up by the store where they sold them at. A man named Roman Pettway used to buy them and then he take them and sell them.

We used to go to school from August to May. I finished twelfth grade at Pine Hill High School. I liked math but didn't care much for stuff like English and social studies. I like to do problems. I like to solve them. I was sewing quilts back when I was going to school. My mama just started learning me how to sew and I started sewing. I just started cutting pieces and sewing them together. I never did like looking at no books, no patterns. Just cut them out and sew them. I could see other people sewing from patterns but I never did like a pattern. I liked to be on my own. I never even liked to make two of them alike. I wanted them different. I just lay the pieces out on the floor or on the bed until I get enough, until I get them straight. Like, I cut them out and put them together, and I start with one or two pieces, and when they look right I sew them together. Then I get another piece and sew it onto that. Keep going on until it looks right and it's the right size for the bed. If it doesn't look right to me, I take it a-loose and put something else in until it do look right. It's like doing the problem in school. You get two pieces here and two there and you got to make it come out to four, four pieces that suit you. You can't just put a quilt together any kind of a way; you got to make the pieces fit to suit you. When I look at it, I'll know when it's right.

I married Lonnie Lee Pettway in 1980. Me and him raised six children, two girls and four boys. My mother, Annie Bell, raised my oldest, a boy I had before I married Lonnie Lee. Quilts have been in my family on all sides. My mama, my mama's mama—Cherokee—and her sisters Clementine and Nell, and my daddy's mama, all of them made quilts. My husband and me live right behind his grandmother's house. She is Martha Jane Pettway. She was a very good quitter. So was Lonnie Lee's mother, Joanna. She was one of my main teachers until she passed in '97. She was caring for Martha Jane and after she passed, Martha Jane moved down to Mobile. She lives there now, 102 years old. Martha Jane was still piecing up quilts right up to when Joanna passed. Didn't want to go to Mobile but didn't have no other choice.

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

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."