1929 - 2012

Linda Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

One of Gee's Bend's foremost artistic lineages consists of several Carson sisters—Aolar C. Mosely, Louella C. Pettway, and Virginia C. Pettway among them—and their extended families, including Virginia's daughter, Linda P. Pettway, and Linda's daughters, Gloria Hoppins and Lucy L. Witherspoon.


My mother say I was born down there in one of them old houses made out of poles and planks, them you had to get straw and mud put down in the cracks. My mother was Virginia; she was a Carson. My daddy was named Willie Pettway. We moved into another one of them old pole houses. We stayed in them until the government built them government houses. We went to the fields, hoed, picked cotton. I loved doing that. Yes sir. I picked two hundred pounds some days. I have done that. I milked cows. I liked to milk cows, but we had some old fighting cows, kicked the buckets over. I feed hogs, and Mama make us go to quilting, too, and I liked to do that. When I was young, I liked doing it all. I stayed in the fields until I was about in my forties. My husband, Richard, stopped farming then, went to work over at Bloedell. Me and Richard had nine children in all. Seven lived to grow up. Two daughters still live around here, Lucy Witherspoon and Gloria Hoppins. I used to love to quilt, and kept doing that until year before last. I supposed to start back but hadn't done it yet.

Mama used to stay quilting, but all of them gone now. She died in childbirth, only forty-something.

I loved to make my own patterns. I just get the cloth, cut the pieces, lay it out on the bed. I be knowing how I'm be putting them together. I could make a "Nine Patch," or "Grandmama's Dream," "Grandmama's Choice"—all that easy stuff—but I don't do that. Most of my quilts are the "Housetop" kind. I start in the middle. Make the middle piece; strip the sides, top, bottom; keep going 'round the sides. I be knowing where I'm going.

This catalogue accompanies the exhibition Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South, presented at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, June 8-November 17, 2019.

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 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.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
June 8, 2019 to November 17, 2019

As embodiments of the African American experience and cultural legacies, the works of art featured in Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South are rooted in African aesthetic legacies, familial tradition, and communal ethos. Previously marginalized as “folk or self-taught” art, they now take their rightful place as significant contributors to the canon of American Modernism.

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 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."