1916 - 1997

Deborah Pettway Young

Boykin, Alabama

Lola Saulsberry, sister of quiltmaker Arcola Pettway, reminisces about their mother, Deborah Pettway Young, whose brother Reverend Spurlin Pettway was the father of quiltmaker Mary Elizabeth Kennedy.

My mother, Deborah (she pronounce it 'D-bora'), she was a Pettway; she married a Copeland, then she married a young, Nettie Young's daddy. She was born in 1916 in Gee's Bend. She passed in 1997. Her parents were Paul Pettway and Louvenia Pettway. Her mother died, I think she said, when she was seven years old, so her daddy raised her. He remarried twice. She had a hard life coming up because of step-mammas. She had three daughters. Arcola was the oldest. She liked to go to church, and she sang in church. She made a lot of quilts, and she made dresses. And she did it without patterns. If she saw a dress somebody had on the TV, she could make it. The same was true of her quilting. I remember something she saw on TV, she made it into a quilt. I never dreamed that people would pay attention to her and Arcola's quilts. They were just making them to keep warm.

While the artists featured in this groundbreaking catalog were born in the Jim Crow period of institutionalized racism, their works embody the promise and attainment of freedom in the modern Civil Rights era and address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and spirituality. Originally created as expressions of individual identity and communal solidarity, these eloquent objects are powerful testaments to the continuity and survival of African American culture. This gorgeous book features lush illustrations of works by artists such as Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, Purvis Young, and the Gee's Bend quilters--including Gearldine Westbrook, Jessie T. Pettway, and more--and presents a series of insightful essays.

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.

de Young Museum
June 3, 2017 to April 1, 2018

"Revelations: Art from the African American South" celebrates the debut of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco major acquisition from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta of 62 works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States.

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."