Lola Pettway (b. 1941), "Housetop"— eight-block variation (detail), c. 1975
Corduroy, 86 x 71 in.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
In 1972, the Freedom Quilting Bee, a sewing cooperative based in Alberta, Alabama, near Gee's Bend, secured a contract with Sears, Roebuck to produce corduroy pillow covers. Production of the Sears pillow covers left little room for personal creativity, as labor at the Freedom Quilting Bee was divided to maximize daily output. Yet despite the standardized and repetitive process involved in producing the pillow covers, the availability of corduroy, a fabric seldom used before by the Gee's Bend quiltmakers, stimulated a profound creative response. Leftover lengths and scraps of corduroy were taken home by workers at the Bee. Given to friends and family or bundled for sale within the community, the scraps were transformed from standardized remnants into vibrant and individualized works of art.
As a young girl, Lola Pettway (1941-2022), daughter of Allie and John the Baptist Pettway, was influenced by her mother’s quilting circle, which included Lucy Mingo and Candis Pettway. Her mother worked at the Freedom Quilting Bee in nearby Alberta and supplied her with remnant Sears corduroy that she used to create some of her best-known quilts.
Another influence was her neighbor, Lucy T. Pettway. When Lucy T. aired her quilts (known for their technical virtuosity), Lola seized the opportunity to look at her work.
She would hang them all the way around her house. And every day I would get up, and she was hanging a different set out. I would go there and look at those quilts. Walk all the way around her fence. I would just look at her beautiful quilts and got so much joy looking at them.
Over time, a system of mutual inspiration developed through these public displays of quilts. The critical spaces constructed around quilts on the wire became de facto versions of a local gallery or museum.
Lola Pettway’s work is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Learn more about Lola Pettway here.
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