1925 - 2001

Lutisha Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

Because she never married, inherited none of her father's farmland, and attended to a son with Down's syndrome, Lutisha Pettway struggled more than most women of her generation in Gee's Bend.

I was born July 10. I don't remember what year. It's on my Social Security card. I was born right here over on that hill. Mama died when I was real small, and Daddy remarried this lady, my stepmother. She didn't spend no time with helping us children much; used to go over to where her other children stay. I farmed. That's all I did do—farmed cotton, pulled corn, worked for my daddy. We come up hard back at them times. Didn't get much schooling. I didn't care for farming none. I just wanted to get away from down here.

I remember when [Rentz's] agents come to take away everything we have. One of Papa's pigs go up under the barn and wouldn't come out for nothing. They didn't take us's chickens. Us could take the eggs to the store, trade for food. Nickel worth of cornmeal last you a week at that time. Had to. Little bitty piece of meat the size of your hand cost fifty cents. We didn't know nothing about candy.

Later on, I worked in Mobile for six years and six months, laundry work and clean house for white folks, for good pay. I sent the money back to my father to take care of my children. I come back here when he took ill, and before he passed, he ask me to stay here. He turned the land over to my brother Yancy.

During the project days, I took up weaving out to the school. They wouldn't let us have none of what we made. There was three or four looms. The thread was different colors. I don't know what they did with all that cloth we made. I had nine children. Two of them died. I had to make quilts for them, and all my quilts was scrapped up out of old clothes back then. Later on, when I was a good bit older, I bought cloth from the store sometime. I did my work by my own hand, by myself. Sometime I put pieces together with a machine after I got arthritis. I learnt to knit; loved to sit down and knit. That arthritis hurt my hands so bad. Twisted around. My sister Allie bring me string, all kind of colors, and I knit it together into a sheet.

I like to sing in church, but don't sing with no group. Just me and Allie—two sisters sit together, sing together. Friendship Baptist—Reverend Bennett's church.

I had a hard way to go after I got up there. Come on the hard side. Sure did. I just always had to see to myself. Do most things by myself.

Creation Story explores parallels and intersections in the works of Dial and his fellow Alabamians, the remarkable quilters of Gee’s Bend. In the tradition of African American cemetery constructions and yard art, these artists harness the tactile properties and symbolic associations of cast-off materials in creating an art of profound beauty and evocative power.

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."