1939 - 2017

Bettie Bendolph Seltzer

Boykin, Alabama
About

Daughter of Annie Bendolph, longtime quiltmaker Bettie Bendolph Seltzer is a clearinghouse of quiltmaking information. Born in 1939, she confirms the utilitarian character of early-twentieth-century quilts, the social aspects of their creation, and the humble origins of their materials. 

When I was growing up, Mama made quilts to keep us warm. The ladies then piece their quilts at home and go to each other house to help quilt. At the start all they was making them out of was old clothes, pants, fertilizer sacks, dress tails, and meal and flour sacks, too.

Following her mother’s example, Bettie started making quilts at about age ten, at first from old clothes.

It wasn’t till I started at the quilting bee around 1971 that I started using good cloth. I never used that old-clothes stuff again. It’s too tough to sew.

She has also become the Boykin postmaster.

I helped out up at the post office for about five years, and then they appointed me the postmaster. I’ve been the postmaster for six years now. It ain’t easy but I love the job. I work six hours a day every day except Sunday. They come in there, get the mail, and go. Don’t nobody stand around and gossip. When I’m in the post office, wearing that postal uniform, I’m postmaster. They don’t look at me like I’m Bettie. I might see my best friend run in there, get the mail, and out. They don’t chat. I like it like that.

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."