1956 -

Essie Bendolph Pettway

Boykin, Alabama
About

A precocious quiltmaker who was artistically mature in her teens, Essie Bendolph Pettway is the daughter of Mary Lee Bendolph and granddaughter of Aolar Mosely.

I was looking at my mama sewing back when I was seven, eight—might have been younger—and I was thinking I want to do that for myself. Maybe I was twelve or thirteen when I made my first quilt. I have a family with a lot of peoples quilting—my grandmother, a lot of aunts, my mama—and I picked up a lot from watching them and learning what they was doing. 

I work at American Apparel up in Selma. I do pick-work; I make army coats. Camouflage. I sit at a sewing machine all day. I like doing it, I love my job, but at times it get a little stressful. I come home and sew. But that’s different. That is work, this is pleasure. Sewing at home give me peace of mind and a challenge. I make quilts here at home, and pillows, curtains, bedspreads, dresses. I used to make clothes for my two children, Felicia and McDuffy, but I stopped after they got to a certain age and didn’t want to wear homemade. 

I’m a good worker. Been working hard most of my life. I went to the fields when I was six. Used to pick squash and cucumbers, okras, cotton. Ain’t never did no pulling-corn work. After we chopped the cotton, we laid it by for a while, and went to school about a couple of months before going back to the field. It all depend on how we did our work in the field, what time we finished our work, we could go to school pretty regular. I finished twelfth grade, got my diploma.

I get pleasure from my quilts. I enjoy seeing other peoples enjoying my work. I enjoy doing good work. Everything I make got to be right to the point. My son is in the Air Force. I made him a quilt out of old camouflage material, and he loved it, and the sergeant was persuasive to try to get it from him. I’m happy people appreciate what I do.

 

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.
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.

Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond

Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond

Mary Lee Bendolph’s extraordinary patchworks garnered national attention when they were featured among the works of other quiltmakers from her tiny, predominately African American community in the 2002 blockbuster exhibition and book, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. This beautiful book examines Bendolph’s inspiration, creative process, and individual genius, as well as her profound connection to the cultural practices and expressive traditions out of which her work arises. 

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.

The Quilts of Gee's Bend

The Quilts of Gee's Bend

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.

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

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

Frist Center for the Visual Arts
May 25 - September 2, 2012

This exhibition explores parallels and intersections in the works of the world-famous Gee’s Bend quilters and the master of assemblage art, Thornton Dial. Quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend feature a sophisticated orchestration of color and eccentric quasi-geometric shapes composing what the New York Times has said are “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”

Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond

Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond

Museum of International Folk Art
November 16, 2007 – May 11, 2008
This exhibition puts the Gee’s Bend quilts in context by featuring the work of master quilt maker Mary Lee Bendolph and those she influenced, accompanied by the art of artists working in the found-object tradition who are part of her artistic sphere, including Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley.
Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

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

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
September 6 – November 10, 2002

"The Quilts of Gee’s Bend" celebrates the artistic legacy of four generations of African-American women from a small, historically all-black community in rural southern Alabama. This exhibition of over sixty extraordinary quilts that were made between 1930 and 2000 showcases a body of work that is bold, spirited, moving, and hailed by Michael Kimmelman, in The New York Times, as “some of the most miraculous works of art America has produced.”

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."