Loretta Pettway (b. 1942), "Bars" work-clothes quilt (detail), 1970s
Cotton, denim, twill (pants legs), 88 x 85 in.; Souls Grown Deep Foundation
In many ways, the aesthetic of Gee’s Bend quilts evolved in response to the nature of the materials at hand. As Loretta Pettway explained, “I made all of my quilts out of old shirts and dress tails and britches legs. I couldn’t never get no good fabric to make quilts, so I had to get the best of the old clothes my peoples wore or old clothes I got from other peoples. I get the best of the shirt sleeves or whatever part of the pants wasn’t wore out, like the back of the pant legs, ’cause the knees mostly be wore out—we pick the cotton on our knees.”
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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