1918 - 1993

Plummer T. Pettway

Boykin, Alabama

The eldest daughter of Martha Jane Pettway (1898-2003), Plummer T. Pettway was, like her mother, an active quiltmaker for over sixty years. Bettie Bendolph Seltzer talks about her cousin and friend.

Her daddy was Little Pettway, her mother was my aunt, Martha Jane, my daddy Jacob Bendolph's sister. She was a hardworking lady, used to go to the fields and hoe, pick cotton, pull corn—they had to do all that at them times. She was baptized and joined the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. She married Famous Pettway and was a good wife to him, far as I know, and had six children with him. She didn't get around all that much, not like her sister Joanna. Joanna was a busybody, loved the highway. Any time you call her, she was ready. Plummer T. wasn't like that. Quiet lady, but she listened.

She quilt in a lot of places. They used to go from place to place helping each other. Had a little something like a quilting group. They make things for Reverend Walter and send them up there when he first started the bee off. We all used to make "house quilts" at home to sell to the bee, at first. They didn't like Plummer T. "house quilts" up there, so she just do the quilting for people. They quilt at Mattie Ross's house, and they quilt at the old house next to Aolar Mosely—Ruth and Wisdom Jr. had lived there, but after they go, they used that as a quilting house. And they quilted in a little house over the creek, across that bridge toward John Gragg house. And up to the Senior Citizen site—they had a group up there—Louella, Marie, Linda, Arlonzia, Annette, and them. So that was her life, the fields and making quilts. She loved to quilt.

While the artists featured in this groundbreaking catalog were born in the Jim Crow period of institutionalized racism, their works embody the promise and attainment of freedom in the modern Civil Rights era and address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and spirituality. Originally created as expressions of individual identity and communal solidarity, these eloquent objects are powerful testaments to the continuity and survival of African American culture. This gorgeous book features lush illustrations of works by artists such as Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, Purvis Young, and the Gee's Bend quilters--including Gearldine Westbrook, Jessie T. Pettway, and more--and presents a series of insightful essays.

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.

de Young Museum
June 3, 2017 to April 1, 2018

"Revelations: Art from the African American South" celebrates the debut of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco major acquisition from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta of 62 works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States.

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."