1898 - 1972

Patty Ann Williams

Alberta, Alabama

In the woods near Rehoboth, in a humble dwelling with few amenities, Patty Ann Williams and her daughter Liza Jane Williams (1916-1988) lived with Liza Jane's children. Both women produced outstanding quilts. Liza Jane's daughter Patty Irby speaks about the family.

We lived in a very old house. Our life was tough; we had to use wood-burning stoves, kerosene lamps to see by; we got electricity in the mid-'60s. We used magazines and newspaper pasted to the walls for wallpaper. That was, you could say, our TV; we'd lay down in the bed and look up and see that magazine and fantasize about what life could be like. We had to go into the woods to get wood for the stove so we could cook. My grandmother was Patty Ann Williams. She didn't go to the fields after she got old. We'd go to the fields and she'd stay and do the cooking. There'd always be soup waiting when we got back. She had done some field work, but her husband, Prince Williams, he worked in the pulpwood mill and mostly provided for her.

Her daughter Liza Jane, she was my mother, and by her never marrying, she stayed home with her mother, my grandmother. We lived back over in Wilcox Corner. My mother and grandmother had both been born and raised here in Rehoboth. Mother worked in the fields all of the time. They was tenant farmers and never really grossed anything from the crops that we grew. Every year we was always in the hole. We always owed out everything that was made, regardless of how much. That's the way it went with us. A lot of time we only had corn bread and milk. We had vegetables and hogs, raise some chickens, that's about it, but never had the money to go buy anything. We had to walk a few miles just to get to the road that went to school and places. My grandmother's life was mostly cooking for us and seeing about us. She tell us bedtime stories. It was one of those old homes with two fireplaces, one side my grandmother lived, and us on the other side. It never really get warm though.

My grandmother and my mother always made quilts, but it was just to keep warm. They never really thought about it; whatever was too old to wear, they just tore it up to make quilts. Their nicest quilts they made out of stuff they was giving away up in Selma or someplace like that, you know, like two dollars a bundle.

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.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts
May 25 - September 2, 2012

This exhibition explores parallels and intersections in the works of the world-famous Gee’s Bend quilters and the master of assemblage art, Thornton Dial. Quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend feature a sophisticated orchestration of color and eccentric quasi-geometric shapes composing what the New York Times has said are “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”

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."