1927 - 2015

Creola Bennett Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

Delia Bennett's youngest daughter, Creola Pettway, is a member of a Gee's Bend gospel quartet, the White Rose, which recently celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary.

Delia Bennett is my mother. Good old mother. When I got old enough to know her, she was making quilts, cooking, canning, couldn't nobody beat her canning. She canned anything she wants to can, without a book—in her head. Lot of times, you don't need to go to a book for everything. You need some of the stuff God put in you. That's the way I am.

I like to sing but I'm about to give it up. Every time I'm about to give it up, something tell me to go ahead—the prize is at the end. If I keep on singing I probably make it to glory. But if I stop singing, that cut off some of my work.

We had four brothers and seven sisters. My daddy was Eddie Bennett. We farmed. They didn't let us go to the fields when we was small. We had to get up some size before we go. I did enjoy farming, but if I had to go now, I'd be too lazy. We grow cotton, corn, and millet. Sometimes we had ribbon cane, peas. We didn't work too hard. It wasn't bad at that time. We had lots of fun. I went to school up to the ninth grade in Gee's Bend.

I went out to Montgomery and worked at the pie company, I never forget that place. It was me and another girl there. The head lady was enjoying me working so much she let me take care of her kid. I enjoyed that. When I got back home, my mother wanted me to stay because she was getting sick. I wanted to go back, but I never did. But I traveled. I went to Boston, Massachusetts, and Jamaica, New York. I got there on Amtrak, but you can't put me on that anymore. I'm through with that train.

Singing in the White Rose and quilting was the best things I do. Singing I like best of all, because I get joy out of it. Leola Pettway is the secretary. Arlonzia Pettway, a member. Georgianna Pettway, I forget. And I'm the manager. And we're going on pretty good.

My mother, she was quilting. She had four frames at that time. Then you put the quilt up. She makes us quilt the little corner first. Then after we learn good, she let us in the big way, in the front. Then we went on to quilting. We talked to the man, Reverend Walter. When he first came to Boykin, he find me and my auntie Minder Coleman. He say, "The Lord tell me to stop right at this house, here. I want that quilt you quilting." We said we ain't going to get this quilt out today. He said, "I'll take it like it is." So, we get that quilt out. We didn't even hem it. We piece a lot of quilts for him. I enjoyed it very much because I knowing more how to make quilts then. If I hadn't gotten lazy, I could get a piece of cloth and make something out of it. That's the way I do all my things. That's the way I cooked. I don't get no recipe. Whatever way I want to cook, I cook. If it don't be good, I want it that way. I get me a piece of cloth and put it on the bed and decide in my mind the way I want that quilt. When I decide the way I want it, I can make it. You can do things out your head. You ain't got to have a book for everything. See, God can put something in your head and show you how to do it. We can't do nothing without God. He's at the head of everything. We wouldn't even walk this morning if it weren't for God.

This catalogue accompanies the exhibition Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South, presented at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, June 8-November 17, 2019.

Creation Story explores parallels and intersections in the works of Dial and his fellow Alabamians, the remarkable quilters of Gee’s Bend. In the tradition of African American cemetery constructions and yard art, these artists harness the tactile properties and symbolic associations of cast-off materials in creating an art of profound beauty and evocative power.

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.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
June 8, 2019 to November 17, 2019

As embodiments of the African American experience and cultural legacies, the works of art featured in Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South are rooted in African aesthetic legacies, familial tradition, and communal ethos. Previously marginalized as “folk or self-taught” art, they now take their rightful place as significant contributors to the canon of American Modernism.

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.

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."