Loretta Pettway (b. 1942), "Log Cabin"—"Courthouse Steps" (Local Name: "Bricklayer") single-block variation (detail), c. 1970
An oft mentioned design triumph of the Gee's Bend aesthetic has been its quiltmaker's magnification of small pattern blocks to monumental scale, so that the single element becomes the entire composition, as here in Loretta Pettway's c. 1970 "Bricklayer" quilt.
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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