1922 - 2011

Lizzie Major


    As the daughter of Reverend Van Pettway, the sister of gravestone maker Perkins Pettway, and the wife of yard-charm maker Finest Major, Lizzie Major has been tied into the primary religious and quasi-religious traditions of Gee's Bend her entire life.

    I was born down here in Gee's Bend in a place they called Brown's Quarters. My daddy was the Reverend Van Pettway, mother was Mary Sellers Pettway. I worked in the field all my life, first for my parents, later on with my husband. Cotton, corn, peas, and millet was what we raised. Cows and hogs, too. I still try to raise a few cows. I'm seventy-eight. My husband is in a rest home in Selma. During the co-op days, the NYA [National Youth Administration] come in, I was a young teenager, 1937, '38. We had a building we all went to; we have lessons like schoolkids. We get paid to learn, about three dollars a day, learned to make fans, baskets out of split oak bark, corn-shuck rugs. They take them away and sell them. They let us keep one something we made, a basket or a rug or one of something. I ended up with a basket and a rug.

    I started piecing quilts in 1939 and got married in 1941. My husband, Finest Major, and me, we had eleven children. I got children all over now: son in New Jersey; two children in Rochester, New York; two in Bronx, New York; son in Manhattan; son in Queens. My brother Little Van you might heard about. He was deformed, legs stopped at his knees, feet was where his knees be, but he got around. My brother Perkins Pettway everybody know. He the one make the grave markers for the dead people. My husband, Finest, he put these stuff along the fence. There's a piece of a bean plow and a bottle, a chain and a iron piece of a coon trap, a chain off a mule plow, a piece of pipe from a wood heater, and some wire off a gas heater, and if you keep going back you going to find some other stuff, too. I don't know why he put it up. He had his reasons.

    My great-grandparents were slaves, name Bill and Emma Campbell. The Van de Graaffs from Tuscaloosa owned them, old man Hargrove Van de Graaff. They used to tell us about slavery time, hard life at that time. They ate out of a trough like a hog. They knock off work and bring them to the trough, pour the food in the trough. Everybody went to the trough, got down like a animal and eat with they hand out of the trough.

    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 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."