Lucy T. Pettway (1921–2004), Blocks and strips (detail), 1960s
Denim, corduroy, cotton, 81 x 73 in.; The Phillips Collection, Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
Mining the creative potential of discarded materials, Lucy T. Pettway’s use of disused and recycled cloth, characteristic of many Gee’s Bend quilts, is a bricolage of sorts, composed of clothing worn laboring in fields and factories and the remnants of ragged shirts and dresses. Mary Margaret Pettway, the artist’s daughter and a fourth-generation quiltmaker, recalled receiving parcels of clothing from relatives in New York, noting that the pink material came from a childhood dress. The blue strips were cut from the jeans of her cousin; the quilt itself covered his bed for many years.
Raised and trained by several of Gee’s Bend’s most serious quiltmakers, Lucy T. Pettway (1921-2004), known as “Lunky,” made quilts for seven decades. Whereas many quilters would develop an approach to quilting early on that remained consistent throughout their lives, Pettway rarely repeated herself. She was curious as an artist and conspicuously sought to explore almost every pattern known to her and to personalize it with her precise interpretation.
As she walked to and from the fields each workday, she carried a pencil and paper in her pocket to sketch ideas and observations. Sometimes a quilt drying on a line or a fence offered suggestions: a variation of the observed quilt, perhaps, or a variation of a detail, or a combination of colors. Something she noticed along the road or from the field might do the same. She sometimes took cloth scraps to the fields so that as ideas came to her while she worked, she could immediately create a quilt block during her rest break.
Pettway’s daughter, Mary Margaret Pettway, serves as board chair of Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership.
Lucy T. Pettway’s work is in numerous permanent collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the High Museum of Art, The Phillips Collection, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Learn more about Lucy T. Pettway here.
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