1953 -

Lorraine Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

Daughter-in-law of quiltmaker Pearlie Pettway, Lorraine Pettway is one of the few women who still perform quilting-the sewing together of the top, the stuffing, and the back—a skill she has provided to other quiltmakers in Gee's Bend.

I was born down here in the Bend; lived right over there down the road from where Bettie Bendolph Seltzer live now, right next door to where Candis [Pettway] was. My mother is Jeanette Mosely. My grandmother was Virginia Mosely.

When I was a little girl, we played a lot, stuff like baseball and hide-and-go-seek. Had to make the cows and pigs and goats move out of the way to play baseball. When the sun got too hot, we come under the shade tree and played hopscotch and jacks.

My husband is Bobby Pettway. We been married about twenty-nine years and we have five children. I been knowing Bobby all my life. I used to always be glad to see Bobby Pettway coming. Used to come every evening and sit and talk till sundown, then he go on home. We went together at least five years before we got married. I used to sit with Bobby's mama, Pearlie Pettway. She was glad me and Bobby got together. She the one learnt me how to make biscuits. She said, "Come sit down right by this window. I want to show you how to make biscuits, 'cause my son love biscuits." Pearlie made a lot of quilts for her children. She was a good mother to them and a good mother-in-law to me.

I learnt how to quilt from my grandmother Virginia. She quilted on the machine a lot, and I had to hold the quilt while she was sewing it. I was on one end and she was on the other end. I liked to be with her.

I learnt how to piece quilts all on my own. It come to me, just putting stuff together. And everybody started liking what I done and asking me how I could do that. I get old clothes and tear them up and make blocks and make pretty quilts. Quilting it is the easiest part. Making it is the hard part. Nothing to quilting it.

How I start to make a quilt, all I do is start sewing, and it just come to me. My daughter ask me the other day what I was making, and I said, "I don't know yet; I'm just sewing pieces together," and the quilt looked pretty good. No pattern. I usually don't use a pattern, only my mind.

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.

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.

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.

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."