1892 - 1976

Delia Bennett


    Delia Bennett was the matriarch of an extended family of quiltmakers, including her daughters Creola B. Pettway, Georgiana Pettway, and Ella Mae Irby. Her quilts’ emphatic and wildly asymmetrical geometries are echoed in quilts by her granddaughters, Mary L. Bennett and Linda Diane Bennett. In 1999, Bennett's daughter Ella Mae Irby described her mother.

    My mama was Delia Bennett; daddy named Eddie Bennett. She lived on a farm, born 1892, and raised here in Gee’s Bend. Her daddy S.S. Pettway and mama Pleasant Pettway. She raised seven girls and four boys. We farmed. Lived on the Brown plantation under what they called “landlords.” Cotton, corn, peas, sorghum syrup, hogs, cows. My father was born in 1886.

    The main thing I know about my mama was she was kind of rough on your tail. A smart lady, farmed right along with us until she got disabled. Got sickly, and after that she stayed and kept house, a hard job with eleven children to care for. Back at that time you worked for thirty cents, forty cents a day, and out of that you pay the landlords.

    She was a Christian woman, loved to go to church. One thing about her, she’d tell you do something, you do it. You don’t talk back. But if she tell you, “Go somewhere, do something,” and you don’t look like you want to, that switch tell you go do it.

    She loved to raise chickens-had to raise them to sell eggs—and we’d tote chickens across on the ferry to Camden to sell.

    Time was hard. They call it “advancing” back in those days. The Man wouldn’t give you nothing but meat and meal, wouldn’t give you no flour, sugar, or nothing else— you had to hustle for extra stuff. There was a store at White plantation for a while; you could get mule feed, flour, and sugar. They advance you stuff, and then when payday come you got to pay it down and work it off, and hire your children out to work for the store man. After that store closed, you had to go to Camden to get everything.

    It was hard for her raising all us. Didn’t have hardly nothing to feed us. We raising our own food, made sweet potatoes, syrup; we had peanuts and corn, milked our cows. We had a hard way to go. My daddy, Eddie Bennett, was head of the family. We picked cotton and things, but it wasn’t for us. It was for the white man, the boss man, Old Man Spurlin. They lived in Camden. We didn’t get nothing for doing it. We had to do it cause we was living on his plantation. He took every last bit of it. Did not give us nothing. We come up hard.

    It was eleven of us. She tried to do the best she could. Made soup and food and tried to feed all us. We had to go to school barefeeted. It was cold. We went to school till February, had to stop then and go to the field to cut bushes and knock cotton stalks.

    Delia Bennett’s work is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

    Creation Story: Gee's Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial

    Creation Story: Gee's Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial

    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.
    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    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: 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.

    Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South

    Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South

    Philadelphia Museum of Art
    June 8, 2019 to September 2, 2019

    The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South, an exhibition including paintings, sculptures, and quilts that celebrates the recent acquisition of 24 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

    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."