1924 - 1997

Candis Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

The social aspects of quilting are confirmed by a loose affiliation of women who customarily gathered to quilt in recent decades at the home of Candis Pettway, the wife of another of Sally's and Esau's children, Tank. Candis and Tank had sixteen children of their own; for a time, they also took care of their niece Loretta Pettway. Tank Jr. can recall the origins of the quilting group:

After most of her children had gone, she went to work as a cook's helper over at the elementary school near her house. She got disabled by heart problems and couldn't work no more. She was in her late fifties. She had got so sick she couldn't do much of nothing. So she would get together with her auntie Allie Pettway, and Lucy Mingo, and Aunt Allie's daughter Lola [Pettway], and they'd sit out there, sewing under the old sugarball tree in the yard. They did that almost every afternoon till she passed.

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 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."