Miniature string-pieced "Zigzags"

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
c. 1940
Cotton and synthetics
84 x 70 inches
Collection of
Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Gertrude was a gifted quiltmaker, as exemplified by an unusual string quilt from the 1940s or possibly earlier. Strings in bold colors are pieced diagonally into pale-colored square blocks that are set out in long rows, creating wavy lines that oscillate emphatically across the surface of the quilt. The whole composition is beautifully set off in a frame of pale pink and yellow. The value that Gertrude attached to this quilt is suggested by the fact that she gave it to Jessie T. Pettway—known as Bootnie—when she married Monroe Pettway in 1955.

To Arlonzia Pettway, the quilt is reminiscent of a textile that Dinah Miller reportedly brought with her from Africa: "She called it African grass pattern or something like that." Whether or not such a textile actually survived the Middle Passage, its presence in Arlonzia's memory is testimony to the persistence of African cultural forms in America.