1960 -

Loretta Pettway Bennett


    Like most girls in Gee’s Bend, Loretta Pettway Bennett learned to quilt from the women around her. Creating quilts was so essential to the women of her family that she says, “It was implanted in my genes.” She married at eighteen and moved with her husband to Germany for the first of three tours with the armed forces. Over the years, between her travels and raising her children, she made some baby quilts and a full-sized quilt or two, and most ambitiously, after a trip back to Gee’s Bend, a “Wedding Ring” quilt that took her three years to complete. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibition was something of a born-again experience for her. After seeing it at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2002, “My eyes were opened,” she remembers. She began to wonder whether she, too, could make a quilt that might someday hang on the wall of a museum.

    Between 2003 and 2006, Bennett made approximately twenty-five quilts and frequently collaborated with her mother, Qunnie Pettway. Her travels inform them. It was always the colors she noticed—the dour monochrome of German winters, the displays of red and green chili peppers, and the bright yellow, orange, pink, and purple clothes and cars in Mexico.

    Bennett frequently draws her patterns first on paper and colors them with crayons. She then pieces the patterns into quilts with old clothes she gathers from family and friends or scavenges in thrift shops, continuing the Gee’s Bend ethos of creative reuse.

    Loretta Pettway Bennett’s work is in the permanent collections of the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Legacy Museum.

    Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South

    Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South

    A wide-ranging survey of Black art in the American South, from Thornton Dial and Nellie Mae Rowe to the quilters of Gee’s Bend For generations, Black artists from the American South have forged a unique art tradition. Working in near isolation from established practices, they have created masterpieces in clay, driftwood, roots, soil, and recycled and cast-off objects that articulate America's painful past--the inhuman practice of enslavement, the cruel segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era and institutionalized racism. Their works respond to issues ranging from economic inequality, oppression and social marginalization to sexuality, the influence of place and ancestral memory.
    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    This book and exhibition are part of a growing family of research projects about the African American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and its quilts. Surrounded on three sides by a river, Gee’s Bend developed a distinctive local culture and quilt design aesthetic. In 2002 the inaugural exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documented these quiltmaking achievements. Expanding upon that initial exhibition and its accompanying publications, Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt offers a deeper look into the women and their art, and a more focused investigation into the nature and inspirations—and future—of the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition.

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
    June 4 – September 4, 2006

    "Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt" features seventy spectacular quilts made by four generations of women in Gee's Bend, a small, isolated African American community in southwest Alabama. With bold improvisation of traditional quilt motifs, these women have created a style all their own. Made between the 1930s and the present, the Gee's Bend quilts’ bright patterns, inventive color combinations, lively irregularities and unexpected compositional variations make them outstanding examples of modern art.

    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."