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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

September 22 – December 9, 2007


OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

The Living Legacy of Dinah the Slave (10 quilts)

Loretta P. Bennett (United States, born 1960)


Two-sided geometric quilt, 2003
Corduroy and velveteen (two-sided quilt)

Loretta Bennett made this quilt to honor her cousin Arlonzia Pettway and her
mother Qunnie Pettway. Loretta says: “Hot pink is my mother’s favorite color.
She taught me how to sew and quilt, and I wanted to do something to honor
her. My cousin Arlonzia made a green and white ‘Lazy Gal’ quilt that I really
like. The triangle I put in there to make the quilt stand out, I wanted it to be
like a window into my background and my childhood and where I came
from.”

Loretta P. Bennett (United States, born 1960)


Blocks and strips, 2004
Corduroy and velveteen

Loretta Bennett prefers to use fabrics that have the same “material or feel”
as the other fabrics in the quilt. Occasionally she will mix fabrics, but only if
she really likes the color combination. Like her two-sided quilt hanging
nearby, this quilt was made to honor Qunnie and Arlonzia Pettway. Loretta
says, “I don’t think I cared so much about mixing the cloth, because they
would have done it.”

Loretta P. Bennett (United States, born 1960)


Blocks and strips, 2005
Polyester, cotton, and cotton/polyester blend

Loretta P. Bennett (United States, born 1960)


Blocks and strips, 2006
Cotton blend and wool blend

Arlonzia Pettway (United States, born 1923)


“Housetop” variation, 1988
Cotton and cotton/polyester blend

Loretta Pettway (United States, born 1942)


“Bricklayer” – sampler variation, 1958

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Cotton and corduroy

“Bricklayers” is the favored pattern of Loretta Pettway, and this quilt is one of
the earliest surviving examples of her work. She recalls: “Arcola [Pettway]
came over to Magdalene Wilson’s house next door and saw my quilts
hanging on the line all around the yard, and she laughed till she cried, and
made fun of them. She said they was all made alike and they was all
‘Bricklayers.’ I told her … my quilts going to do just what them ‘Eight Point
Stars’ do for you. They going to keep me and my family warm.”

Loretta Pettway (United States, born 1942)


“Bricklayer” variation, 1975
Corduroy

As a teenager, Loretta Pettway made a 20-block sampler of “Bricklayers”


variations (also hanging nearby). A number of years later, using corduroy
scraps from the Freedom Quilting Bee, she made this unusual quilt of
abstracted “Bricklayers” elements.

Loretta Pettway (United States, born 1942)


“Housetop” variation, 2003
Cotton and cotton blends

Due to bad health and depression, Loretta Pettway stopped making quilts
almost 20 years ago. Although many of her quilts were featured in the
exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, and one was illustrated on the cover of
the book Gee’s Bend: The Women and their Quilts, she did not attend the
first museum openings. With the help and encouragement of her friends and
other quilters in the community, she was able to overcome her depression,
start making quilts again, and begin traveling. This quilt was one of the first
quilts she made after almost two decades of inactivity.

Qunnie Pettway (United States, born 1943)


“Bricklayer” variation, 1975
Corduroy

The two quilts by Qunnie Pettway, made 30 years apart, represent two
variations on the “Bricklayers” quilt. The earlier quilt consists of one
“Bricklayers” block, while the later quilt incorporates four smaller blocks
placed together. While Qunnie Pettway has experimented with numerous

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

quilt patterns throughout her long quilting career, variations on the


“Housetops” and “Bricklayers” have remained a consistent part of her work.

Qunnie Pettway (United States, born 1943)


“Bricklayer” variation, 2005
Corduroy and cotton

Qunnie Pettway is the great-granddaughter of Dinah Miller. She is also the


mother of Loretta P. Bennett. This quilt is made from the recycled legs of
men’s corduroy pants. It comes from Qunnie’s embrace of the Gee’s Bend
tradition of quilting with Sears corduroy scraps from the Freedom Quilting
Bee.

Housetops and Bricklayers: The Quilter's Building Code (9 quilts)

Delia Bennett (United States, 1892–1976)


“Housetop” – fractured-medallion variation, 1955
Cotton

Delia Bennett was the matriarch of an extended family of quiltmakers that


includes her daughters Creola Pettway, Georgiana Pettway, and Ella Mae Irby.
Her granddaughters Mary L. Bennett, Linda Diane Bennett, Stella Mae
Pettway, Marlene Bennett, and many others continued her quilting tradition.

In this quilt, a “fractured” variation on the standard, single-block


“Housetops,” Delia Bennett has taken four separate, elbow-shaped “Half-Log
Cabin” blocks and married them together to make a larger “Housetops.”

Linda Diane Bennett (United States, 1955–1988)


“Housetop” with cross, 1970
Cotton, synthetic blends, and wool

Linda Diane Bennett was the daughter of Ella Mae Irby and the
granddaughter of Delia Bennett. This quilt, similar in construction to her
grandmother’s quilt nearby on this wall, was constructed from four large,
single blocks, joined together with strips of cloth. The strips form a cross that
unites the four blocks, creating the “Housetops.” The cross-forming strips
also relate this quilt to her Aunt Creola’s “Housetops–Half-Log Cabin”
variation quilt, also included in this section.

Page 3 of 14
Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Aolar Mosely (United States, 1912–1999)


“Bricklayer” – single-block variation, 1950
Cotton, twill, cotton hop-sacking, and corduroy

Aolar Mosely has employed a device widely used within the Gee’s Bend
quilting tradition: she has enlarged what is normally one of a quilt’s many
blocks to create a quilt consisting of a single block. The enlarging of a single
block to create a quilt can be traced to the earliest documented quilts in
Gee’s Bend.

Creola B. Pettway (United States, born 1927)


“Housetop” – “Half-Log Cabin” variation, 1949
Cotton and wool

Creola Pettway made this “Housetops” variation in 1949 as a gift for her
brother and his fiancée when they announced their wedding plans. Each of
four large blocks is constructed of four smaller blocks of “Housetops”
quadrants. Each has a slightly different arrangement of its components, as
do the four strips that form the quilt’s border.

Lucy T. Pettway (United States, 1921–2004)


“Housetop” and “Bricklayer” blocks with bars, 1955
Cotton, corduroy, cotton knit, flannel, even weave

Lucy T. Pettway, one of Gee’s Bend’s most respected quilters, was so


committed to her art that she took pencil and paper to the cotton fields each
day to sketch ideas as they came to her. She also took cloth scraps to create
quilt blocks during her rest breaks. This quilt is an accumulation of
“Housetops” and “Bricklayers” blocks with some “Lazy Gal” strips. The quilt
represents a map of the Pettway Plantation and the area around it. At the top
is a large “Housetops” block (the plantation house) and below are four
smaller “cabins” that are bordered by the river on the right side and a series
of fields on the left.

Martha Pettway (United States, 1911–2005)


“Housetop” variation, 1930s
Cotton

Martha Pettway (United States, 1911–2005)


“Housetop” – “Half-Log Cabin” variation, 1930s

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Cotton

Martha Pettway was one of the most important quilters in Gee’s Bend in the
early 20th century. Unlike other quilters in the area, she carefully preserved
her favorite quilts from the early years of her adulthood (circa 1928–35).

Nancy Pettway (United States, born 1935)


“Housetop”, 2003
Corduroy and cotton twill

Nancy Pettway never worked at the Freedom Quilting Bee, but she purchased
corduroy directly from the cooperative in bundled lots and stored it until she
was ready to use it in a quilt. She stored this corduroy for over 25 years
before she created this quilt.

Gearldine Westbrook (United States, born 1919)


“Housetop” variation, 1982
Corduroy and cotton

Bending Geometry (10 quilts)

Annie Bendolph (United States, 1900–1981)


“Wild Goose Chase” variation with “Flying Geese” border, 1930
Cotton

Triangles and squares are used by Annie Bendolph in her variation of a


pattern widely known as “Wild Goose Chase.” Gee’s Bend women seldom
used patterns as they were published in newspapers and magazines, but
enjoyed the challenge of creating original and personal interpretations.

Polly Bennett (United States, 1922–2003)


Medallion with center bars, 1943
Cotton

Polly Bennett’s “Medallion” quilt has a very similar construction to a


Pennsylvania Amish quilt referred to as “Bars.” With its exotic, printed red
and white borders, Bennett’s quilt is as far removed philosophically from the
Amish as it is geographically.

Page 5 of 14
Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Sarah Benning (United States, born 1933)


“Snowball” variation (quilter’s name: “Bow Tie”), 1950
Cotton, velveteen, and synthetics

Sarah Benning made this quilt when she was a teenager and calls it a “Bow
Tie” pattern.

America Irby (United States, 1916–1993)


Center Medallion, 1940
Corduroy

America Irby (United States, 1916–1993)


"Star of Bethlehem” variation, 1940s
Cotton

America Irby uses diamond-shaped pieces of printed cloth from old dresses
and flour sacks in this imaginative quilt that magnifies a detail of a standard
“Star of Bethlehem” pattern.

Mertlene Perkins (United States, born 1917)


“Birds in Flight” variation, 1940s
Cotton

Mertlene Perkins has created an original five-strip variation of the pattern


known elsewhere as “Birds in Flight.”

Essie B. Pettway (United States, born 1956)


Blocks and strips, 2003
Cotton

Essie B. Pettway, daughter of Mary Lee Bendolph, designed this quilt based
upon a picture of the facade of the Southern Poverty Law Center Building in
Montgomery, Alabama. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is one of the
foremost institutions in the United States committed to combating racism
and working to make the American Constitution’s ideals a reality. The SPLC
promotes civil rights through research, education, and legal actions. It also
monitors hate groups and extremist activities throughout the United States.

Page 6 of 14
Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Southern Poverty Law Center Headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama.

Nancy Pettway (United States, born 1935)


“Sampler” medallion, 1968
Cotton

Nancy Pettway made this quilt shortly after her wedding to Yancy Pettway,
one of the first registered Black voters in Wilcox County. Nancy had all but
abandoned quiltmaking throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s. Her
quilting frame broke in the 1980s, and she never had it repaired. She began
working again in late 2002. In this quilt, she combines small nine-patch
blocks with triangles and strip borders to create an entirely original
“Medallion” quilt.

Magdalene Wilson (United States, 1898–2001)


“Broken Star” variation, 1925
Cotton, wool, and silk

Magdalene Wilson, who lived to the age of 103, was in her 20s when she
created this “Star” quilt from diamond-shaped pieces of cotton, wool, and
silk.

Nettie Young (United States, born 1917)


“Basket Weave” (Freedom Quilting Bee name: “Crazy Quilt”), 1975
Cotton, velveteen, and double knit

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Nettie Young was a founding member and the past president of the Freedom
Quilting Bee. The Quilting Bee adopted this pattern and called it the “Crazy
Quilt.”

The Work-Clothes Quilts (8 quilts)

Mary Lee Bendolph (United States, born 1935)


Work-clothes quilt, 2002
Denim and cotton

Mary Lee Bendolph describes her fondness for used cloth: “The materials I
use is mostly old material. People loved their pants or dresses, and they have
worn out or don’t fit anymore. I make quilts out of it because I hate throwing
away things, because somebody can use things that people throw away.
People are so wasteful now. It hurts me to see people waste up things.
Everything you throw way, it can be used and make something beautiful out
of it.”

Linda Diane Bennett (United States, 1955–1988)


“Bricklayer” variation, 1970
Denim

The “Bricklayers” pattern is a widely used variation of the “Housetops.”


Elsewhere in the quiltmaking world, a similar interpretation is known as the
“Courthouse Steps” variation of the “Log Cabin” pattern. Linda Diane Bennett
has taken denim from a dozen or more pairs of work-clothes to create
unusual movement and variety within an otherwise repetitive pattern.

Emma Lee Pettway Campbell (United States,


1928–2002)
Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt, 1950s
Denim and cotton twill

Lucy Mingo (United States, born 1931)


Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt, 1959
Cotton and denim

Lucy Mingo has always preferred old, discarded clothes and subdued colors.
She recently said, “I want a little color to it, but not too much… you have to

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

keep it toned down.” In this quilt she used old work clothes, adding scraps
from a nearby shirt factory.

Henrietta Pettway (United States, 1894–1971)


“Housetop” variation, 1920s
Cotton, denim, and corduroy

Martha Jane Pettway (United States, 1898–2003)


Center medallion with cornerstones, 1920s
Cotton, denim, and corduroy (two-sided quilt)

Two characteristics of Gee’s Bend quiltmaking are demonstrated by this


work-clothes quilt from the 1920s by Martha Jane Pettway. The first is the
variation of a traditional theme, reinventing it while maintaining the artistic
integrity of the original. The second is the making of two-sided quilts,
common in Gee’s Bend, in which one side is frequently a formal pattern and
the reverse, a more informal one.

Andrea P. Williams (United States, born 1973)


Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt, 1991
Cotton, denim, and twill

Annie Mae Young (United States, born 1928)


Work-clothes strips, 1970
Denim, corduroy, and cotton/polyester blend

Annie Mae Young explains: “When I first made quilts,


I used the old pant legs from my brother Gaston. That was about all I had
back then, old dress tails and pant legs. I stayed with what I started with: old
clothes that I could tear up. It always come out level.”

"Avocado Leaf" Corderoy, Remnant of the 1970s (8 quilts)

Nellie Mae Abrams (United States, 1946–2005)


“Housetop” variation, 1970s
Corduroy

Nellie Mae Abrams was the daughter of quilter Annie Mae Young.

Page 9 of 14
Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Willie “Ma Willie” Abrams (United States, 1879–1987)


“Roman Stripes” variation, 1975
Corduroy

Linda Diane Bennett (United States, 1955–1988)


“Housetop” variation, 1970s
Corduroy

Mary L. Bennett (United States, born 1942)


“Housetop”, 2002
Corduroy

Mary L. Bennett and her cousin Linda Diane Bennett both made quilts using
the exact same material—green and brown corduroy from the Freedom
Quilting Bee. Mary used the material to make this single-block “Housetops”
quilt and Linda Diane used it to make the eight-block “Housetops”
variation, also hanging on this wall.

Mary L. Bennett (United States, born 1942)


“Lazy Gal” variation, 2003
Corduroy

Nettie Jane Kennedy (United States, 1916–2002)


“Basket Weave”, 1973
Corduroy

Ruth Kennedy (United States, born 1926)


Blocks and strips, 2003
Corduroy

Known among her peers for her methodical approach to quilt composition,
Ruth Kennedy carefully lays out her fabric pieces, thoughtfully experimenting
with pattern prior to piecing. For this quilt, she set out to make a
“Housetops” pattern, but after assessing the corduroy patchwork spread out
before her, she settled on the strips-and-bars composition.

Lola Pettway (United States, born 1941)

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

“Housetop” variation, 1970s


Corduroy

Daughter of quiltmaker Allie Pettway and granddaughter of Henrietta Pettway


(whose quilt is in the work-clothes section), Lola Pettway is part of a newly
formed quilting circle that includes her mother, her aunt Nancy Pettway
(whose quilt is nearby on this wall), Lucy Mingo, and Arlonzia Pettway. Many
of the quilting groups that once dominated the neighborhoods of Gee’s Bend
have disbanded, as members died or stopped quilting, but the resurgence of
the art in the area has led to several newly formed groups, no longer
dominated by family or neighborhood relationships.

Mother-in-Law / Daughter-in-Law (9 quilts)

Louisiana P. Bendolph (United States, born 1960)


“Housetop” variation, 2003
Cotton and cotton blends

Louisiana Bendolph will often take quilts that are in process and cut them up,
reassembling the pieces into an entirely new construction. This quilt was
originally designed as a typical “Housetops” pattern, before the artist cut it
into blocks and reassembled it to create this quilt. As Louisiana explains:
“Once I start putting the pieces together, I’ll see which direction the quilt is
going. I’ll put it on the bed and stand back and look at it. Sometimes I like it
and sometimes I don’t. If I like it, I keep sewing on it. If I don’t like it, I’ll cut it
apart and redesign it. Or I’ll put it aside and come back to it later, when I am
inspired.”

Louisiana P. Bendolph (United States, born 1960)


“Housetop” variation, 2003
Cotton and cotton blends

Louisiana P. Bendolph (United States, born 1960)


Strips, 2003
Corduroy

As a child, Louisiana Bendolph would play under the quilts while her mother,
Rita Mae, her great-grandmother, Annie E. Pettway, and other aunts and
relatives would quilt. She recalls: “I remember doing that when I was six or
seven years old, but I’m sure we did it earlier than that. We would sit under
the quilt and I would watch the needle going in and out of the fabric. I loved

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Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

watching and playing under the quilts.” Now, when Louisiana pieces or quilts,
it is not uncommon to find her daughter Alleeanna, or her grand-daughter
Tausyanna sitting nearby, watching and drawing their own quilt designs.

Louisiana P. Bendolph (United States, born 1960)


“Housetop” variation, 2004
Denim and twill

Louisiana P. Bendolph explains her aesthetic: “Most of my quilts are really


based on the ‘Housetop’ design. But once I start working on them, they get ‘un-
Housetop.’ I started with ‘Housetops.’ I never really thought about
‘Housetops’ as my favorite, but they always start out that way. Many times
they don’t really end up looking like a ‘Housetop’ unless you stand back and
look at them. Then you can see that it is based on the ‘Housetop.’”

Mary Lee Bendolph (United States, born 1935)


Blocks and strips, 2003
Velvet

Mary Lee Bendolph explains why she uses old clothing for her quilting: “Old
clothes have spirit in them. They also have love. When I make a quilt, that’s
what I want it to have, too, the love and the spirit of the people who wore it.”

Mary Lee Bendolph (United States, born 1935)


Blocks and strips, 2003
Corduroy

Although Mary Lee Bendolph’s life has changed significantly since the
premiere of the first exhibition, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, some things have
remained constant. She explains: “The way I make them [my quilts] is still
the same way my mama taught me. I can have any material I want now, but
I still love to use leftover and recycled-again cloth. It’d been a pleasure to
buy some new cloth I wanted to put into a quilt, way back when I didn’t have
any money. Now I can have it, but I see the value of the leftover cloth. Old
clothes have the spirit, and I can’t leave the spirit out. The spirit is all we had
to lead and guide us, back in the day. And it still is.”

Mary Lee Bendolph (United States, born 1935)


Blocks and strips, 2005
Corduroy

Page 12 of 14
Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

In early summer 2005, Mary Lee Bendolph spent two weeks at Paulson Press
in Berkeley, California, making fine-art prints. This “Housetops” quilt was
inspired by one of those prints, titled Mama’s Song, and incorporates
material that she used in its design.

Mary Lee Bendolph (United States, born 1935)


Blocks, strips, strings, and half squares, 2005
Cotton

Mary Lee Bendolph (United States, born 1935)


Blocks, strips, and strings, 2006
Cotton

A Dirt Road in Rehoboth (6 quilts)

Amelia Bennett (United States, 1914–2002)


Bars and strips, 1929
Cotton, denim, and muslin

Pearlie Pettway Hall (United States, 1908–2000)


Medallion, 1950s
Cotton

This quilt is an example of a geometric pattern reduced to its most essential


forms. A single rectangle is placed asymmetrically on an off-white field
formed by a larger enveloping group of almost invisible rectangles. The
whole forms a modified version of the most beloved pattern in Gee’s Bend,
“Housetops.”

Sue Willie Seltzer (United States, born 1922)


String-pieced blocks and bars, 1965
Cotton, denim, and flannel

Sue Willie Seltzer’s quilts are notable for their originality and whimsy. Her
work has been characterized for 50 years by innovation and complete
unpredictability.

Page 13 of 14
Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt
September 22 – December 9, 2007
OBJECT LABELS BY SECTION

Sue Willie Seltzer (United States, born 1922)


Blocks, 1990s
Cotton and cotton blends

Irene Williams (United States, born 1920)


Strips, 1960s
Polyester knit basketball jerseys, satin, and corduroy

Irene Williams (United States, born 1920)


Blocks and strips, 2003
Polyester double-knit

For 70 years, Irene Williams has been making quilts that are outside the
boundaries of any category. She prefers a simple strip-and-block technique
with a limited number of colors. In this exhibition, the two quilts, the first
made four decades earlier, reveals her ongoing use of special color
combinations and lively syncopation.

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