1918 - 2001

Ruby Gamble

Alberta, Alabama
About

Mensie Lee Pettway remembers her aunt, Ruby Gamble, and mother, America Irby.

She and her sister, my aunt Ruby Gamble, came from a family of nine children. They worked in the field when they was little, and when they got a certain age, they went down to Gee's Bend to work on what they called the NYA, some kind of government job or whatever. Both of them, Ruby and her, could sew, was seamstresses, made garments for other peoples. Dresses, shirts, blouses, pants for mens—she made it all without a pattern. Didn't use patterns for quilts, neither. None of this family have used patterns. We got a tradition of the old peoples' ways. They would call it "string quilts"; everybody made their own design.

We was taught there's so many different ways to build a quilt. It's like building a house. You can start with a bedroom over there, or a den over here, and just add on until you get what you want. Ought not two quilts ever be the same. You might use exactly the same material, but you would do it different. A lot of people make quilts just for your bed, for to keep you warm. But a quilt is more. It represents safekeeping, it represents beauty, and you could say it represents family history.

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

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.

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."