Although she is the daughter-in-law of quiltmaker Patty Ann Williams, Irene Williams has made her quilts in solitude throughout her adult life and arrived at an original, personal artistic vision almost completely uninfluenced by her peers.
I was born in Wilcox County, in Rehoboth, Alabama. My mother was named Sandy Williams; Tom Williams was my father. Back in them years they didn't do nothing but farm in the fields. Making corn, peas, potatoes and everything, and raised hogs in the yard. That's what we lived on: what we made. 'Long in them years, the government furnished chickens and cows for people. The government furnished these things for people that farmed these big old bulls what they plowed back then. People didn't live happy, because we just lived off what we make. We didn't owe no debt, though. Anybody who wanted to join that program would get cows and big old steers to plow, and raised so many chickens. That's what we ate: chickens off the yard. That's the reason I don't like chicken now. Big old roosters, hens—and they laid nice eggs and everything. Those cows, milk cows, four or five cows. That's what we lived off of. We didn't have to go to school.
My parents was born in Rehoboth, too. I didn't know about slaves when we was coming up. My people wasn't no slaves. My grandparents might have been slaves, as far as I know. I just remember my mama's mama was named Arie Craig. We went to Pine Grove Baptist Church School. Had to walk to school long way then. Let's see how far I got in school: I think I got to the eighth or the ninth—somewhere along there. After that, I got a baby. I've had six children—three girls, three boys. My oldest boy, I buried him last Sunday. He was trying to save another man's life—that's what they tell me—and was in a truck wreck. It was a log truck. After I had children, I done helped my daddy work in the fields. We just raised cotton—some of everything. And what we worked on we didn't use fertilizer. He used leaves out the woods. We had trees in us yard. You pile them leaves up and haul them to the fields. We made watermelons—we made everything.
I remember when Martin Luther King came down here, too. In a way, black people been treated pretty good, pretty fair. I don't tell no lie. When I was growing up, white people didn't bother me none. All the white peoples I know treated me nice, like you're treating me today. I never did work for no white people. Didn't do nothing but work in the fields. When I married, I was seventeen years old. My husband, Cornelius Williams, was the best man that ever walk on God's ground. I was a Williams and I married a Williams. Liza Jane Williams was my sister-in-law. Patty Williams was my mother-in-law. Liza Jane Williams was Cornelius's sister, that's right. All them dead now.
When I got married, I started making quilts. I just put stuff together. I didn't do the best I could, because in them years I didn't have nothing but what little we got to make quilts and things out of.