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Loretta Pettway

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-05-20T12:00:00-04:00 in Black Artists | 0 Comments

Loretta Pettway is an African American quilter from Gee’s Bend, Alabama. This historically Black town is celebrated for its network of artists for whom quilting was almost a rite of passage for girls and young women in an intergenerational apprenticeship style of teaching. Despite being uninterested in quilting, Pettway learned at an early age: “I didn’t like to sew. Didn’t want to do it. . . . My grandmama, Prissy Pettway, told me, ‘You better make quilts. You going to need them.’ I said, ‘I ain’t going to need no quilts.’ But when I got me a house, a raggly old house, then I needed them to keep warm.”[1]

Pettway’s style involves playing with shapes to alternately convey a magnified or a wide perspective. She is known for her use of denim in the “work clothes” quilt genre. “I made all my quilts out of old shirts and dress tails and britches legs,” she explains. “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.”[2]


PMA Collection



[1] Pettway 2016, 227; see also Arnett 2012; Bendolph 2017; Cassel 2019; Cubbs 2006.

[2] Pettway 2016, 230; see also Cassel 2019. 



Arnett, Paul. 2012. “Complementary: Mary Lee Bendolph and Thornton Dial, Gee’s Bend and Bessemer.” In Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial. Edited by Mark Scala. Nashville: Frist Center for the Visual Arts.


Bendolph, Mary Lee. 2017. “Gee’s Bend: A Reproductive Justice Quilt Story from the South.” In Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundations, Theory, Practice, and Critique. Edited by Loretta J. Ross et al. New York: Feminist Press.


Cassel Oliver, Valerie. 2019. “Mary Lee Bendolph.” In Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


Cubbs, Joanne. 2006. “The Life and Art of Mary Lee Bendolph.” In Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee’s Bend Quilts, and Beyond. Edited by Paul Arnett and Eugene W. Metcalf Jr. Atlanta: Tinwood.

Pettway, Loretta. 2016. “On Quilt-Making and Gee’s Bend.” In The Keeper. Edited by Massimiliano Gioni and Natalie Bell. New York: New Museum.

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