Loretta Pettway (b. 1942), Four-block strip quilt (detail), c. 1960
Cotton twill and synthetic material (men's clothing), 78 x 73 in.; Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
In a purely aesthetic sense, the more simplified constructions of the work-clothes quilts provided a blank canvas for experiments with a range of improvisational strategies, including sudden shifts in patterning, broken borders, irregular shapes, asymmetry, syncopation, and dissonant juxtapositions of prints and colors. During the early 1960s, Loretta Pettway created a captivating trilogy of quilts with vastly different and highly imaginative designs, all miraculously rendered from the same dreary batch of men’s clothing scraps.
In her youth, Loretta Pettway (b. 1942) had many Pettway quiltmaking mentors—including Missouri, Louella, Qunnie, grandmother Prissy, and stepmother Plummer T.—but she has kept to herself artistically throughout her adult life. Although she disliked sewing as a child, she pieced her first quilt with her grandmother’s encouragement when she was eleven. Her earliest surviving quilts are made of everyday clothing, especially men's work clothes.
As a teenager, Pettway gravitated toward the "Bricklayer" pattern, popular among her relatives and neighbors in Pettway.
My husband, Walter, he worked at Henry Brick and he brought home two picture boards of bricks. I liked them and tried to copy them. I always did like a ‘Bricklayer.’ It made me think about what I wanted. Always did want a brick house.
In 2006, two of Pettway’s quilts appeared on U.S. postage stamps as part of the American Treasures series. In 2015, she received a National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States government's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Her work is held in numerous permanent collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Learn more about Loretta Pettway here.
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