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Nettie Young

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-11-18T12:00:00-05:00 in Black Artists | 0 Comments

African American quilter Nettie Young was a member of the historic quilting community in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, along with Loretta Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph, Louisiana Pettway Bendolph, Delia Bennett, Martha Jane Pettway, and Annie E. Pettway. The purchase of her quilts by museums provided funds to Young that she used for myriad purposes, including the land she donated to the Ye Shall Know the Truth Baptist Church in Alberta, Alabama.

Born in 1916, she learned to quilt from her mother, a common practice for girls in the community, who were taught by the women in their lives. Recounting her family history, Young explains, “My daddy’s father had been a slave named Irby but was sold to the Pettways, so my daddy was named Pettway, same as all the others owned by the Pettways.”[1] When her father was no longer enslaved, he left the Pettway plantation to work as a sharecropper on the Young plantation, where Nettie was raised. In a 2001 interview with William Arnett, she discussed her love for “the history of Black people living between the Young, Irby, and Pettway plantations—first as enslaved workers, then later as sharecroppers.”[2] 

Many of the quilters in the area of Wilcox County, Alabama, which includes Gee’s Bend, worked for the Freedom Quilting Bee cooperative during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Young was the assistant manager and credits the cooperative with having “put food on the table and [paying her] bills”[3]. However, during this period she started sewing from patterns, which disrupted her creativity. Regarding the Gee’s Bend quilting community’s skill at “bend[ing] geometric shapes,” Maggi McCormick Gordon asserts that Young’s quilts, as well as those by fellow quilter Polly Bennett, “serve as a lesson in the way divergent visual effects can be brought about through the use of different materials, even though the pattern is the same.”[4] 

Young died in 2010.


PMA Collection



[1] Souls Grown Deep, n.d.

[2] Cassel Oliver 2019, 94.

[3] Young quoted in Whitley 2006, 97.

[4] Gordon 2006, 109.



Arnett, William. 2006. “Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt.” In Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. Edited by Paul Arnett, Joanne Cubbs, and Eugene W. Metcalf Jr. Atlanta: Tinwood Books.

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

Gordon, Maggi McCormick. 2006. “Bending Geometry.” In Paul Arnett et al., Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. Atlanta: Tinwood Books.

“Nettie Young.” Souls Grown Deep. Accessed September 16, 2021.

Whitley, Lauren. 2006. “‘Avocado Leaf’ Corduroy, Remnant of the Seventies.” In Paul Arnett et al., Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. Atlanta: Tinwood Books.


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