"Housetop"—center medallion

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
c. 1975
91 x 88 inches
Collection of
Brooklyn Museum
Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Gee’s Bend quiltmakers are often wryly self-deprecating when they describe the commanding presence of “Housetop” and “Bricklayer” designs within their aesthetic tradition. For Gloria Hoppins, the “Housetop” has proven to be an almost inescapable outcome: “That’s all I make—‘Housetops.’ I make a ‘Housetop’ quilt. That’s it. In my mind I be wanting to make something different, but that's the way it always come out—a ‘Housetop.’” She concludes that her own quilts, while recognizable as “Housetops,” display considerable variation on the basis of “how you make them, and how you put the design in them.” The “Housetop” quilts made by her and her family—Linda Pettway is her mother and Lucy P. Witherspoon, her sister—display the design opportunities and complexities of what appears on the surface to be a simple geometrical composition. In effect, the vocabulary and grammar of Gee’s Bend “Housetop” quilts exist in a continuing moment of design instability. Each “Housetop” quilt, no matter how loosely organized its composition may seem at first glance, creates a moment that simultaneously preserves and critiques the organizing idea. The large majority of Gee’s Bend quiltmakers recognize their roles as living extensions of a visual tradition. As artists, they tease apart and reconstitute that tradition, quilt by quilt, maker by maker. —Bernard L. Herman