1928 - 2006

Ruth Pettway Mosely

Boykin, Alabama
About

One of three quiltmaking daughters of Mary Ann Bendolph Pettway and Tom O. Pettway (the others being Lucy T. “Lunky” Pettway and Revil Mosely), Ruth grew up in the Sodom neighborhood, moving to Pettway when she married Wisdom Mosely Jr.

My mother taught me how to quilt. I used to make my dolls’ clothes. People didn’t have too much material then. And so whatever you found to sew with, if it wasn’t nothing but a flour sack, you sew that together. The first quilt I ever made, Mama left some strips there, and some of the pieces were an inch wide, and I just took those little strings and watched her. I sewed one just like she was sewing hers. And that’s the way I learned how to quilt, from her scraps. Sometimes I cut the pattern I want and I built it just like a "Housetop." Just like folks put shingles on a house, that’s the way I have it lined up. I enjoyed it. My daddy used to go to Camden and he would get all the material he could and bring home for Mama to make quilts where we could keep warm in the winter.

My oldest sister and next-oldest sister, they had babies. Back in that time, if you have a baby you just don’t go back to school. Stay home and tend to that baby. I told myself, 'Lunky and them might get a baby, but I ain’t getting one till I get out of school and get ready to marry.' That’s what I told myself, and that’s what happened. My mama would tend to my baby. She told me, "If you get another one, I ain’t going to have nothing to do with it. You go out and get him, you going to worry about him."

We didn’t know what a new dress was. We would go to the place where the peoples had clothes someone else wore, and we would wear that. And we used to make clothes in school. And I help those other children cut out their clothes, and the teacher caught me doing it. She said, "I’m not going to give you a grade; I’m going to give them a grade, because you doing yours and theirs too." I said, "It don’t make a difference to me." She said, "Are you talking back?" And I said, "No. You know I’m not going to do that because Papa and Mama both will beat me. I’m just telling you the straight truth."

I had three boys and three girls. That’s enough. I taught school for twenty-four years. The kids were in the third and fourth and fifth grade. They was all mixed up then.

They moved the school. We had to go to school in Camden. We had to go around that road through Alberta. Or on that skiff across the river. The man that was carrying us across the river was standing up in the skiff and I was sitting in the boat with my hands on both sides holding like I don’t know what. And water started coming in there. And I said, "The next time I come to Camden, I’m going all the way through Alberta." That water was coming on up in there.

My mama died kind of early, so I would go over to Aunt Arie’s house sometimes. She would make all kinds of quilts. She would give me one block. She would say, "When you come back up here, you better have more than one block made." And so I did.

Back in that time, children would obey grown people. They don’t now. And some of ’em tell you. "I ain’t studying about you. You ain’t my mama." But in my yard you belong to me.

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.

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.”

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."