Gee’s Bend Alabama, Here I Come

Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway
Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway

Well, I did it.  I just booked a flight to Montgomery Alabama.  From there I rent a car and drive to the Gee’s Bend Ferry, then onto Mary Ann Pettway’s  house where I’ll be staying for 4 days in May.

For those of you who don’t know, the Gee’s Bend Quilts are the thing that got me making art again.  I quit for a while after getting my MFA in sculpture.  I was confused about what I wanted to do  and disillusioned with the art world I knew.  But a few years later, I saw a book with the Gee’s Bend Quilts and the women who made them.  A small community,  in an isolated part of Alabama, the women of Gee’s Bend have been making quilts for generations. Their unique style was made famous when  art collector William Arnett saw them and put together an exhibit that traveled around the country.  Seeing  just the photos of the quilts  (I have still never seen them in person) inspired me to make my own quilts.  And that’s how I began doing what I do.

Last week,  Bridgett (who bought my Zombie Hens wall hanging)  sent me an email that there was a Gee’s Bend exhibit in Bridgeport Connecticut.  Jon and I were driving home from New York City when I got another email from Bridgett saying that it was worth seeing, but there were only four quilts in the exhibit.   I had been thinking about making a trip down to Gee’s Bend for a while, and as we talked about it, Jon got on his phone and found out that there was a quilting workshop in Gee’s Bend in April. Without a moment’s hesitation (that’s how Jon is, if it was me I’d still be thinking about it) he called the number and spoke to Mary Ann Pettway, one of the quilters and teachers.
It turns out that Mary Ann gives private lessons and I could stay at her house (there are no motels in Gee’s Bend) while I was taking lessons.  Now this is even better than I imagined because it puts me right in the middle of things.  Because I’m not just interested in learning about quilting I’m also interested in the woman who do the quilting and all the stories that go along with it.

I’ve never done anything like this before and it feels like an important thing for me to do.  Like a pilgrimage to the people and place that inspired me to begin creating again.  When I think of spending four days with someone I don’t know, I get a little jittery.  But then I think of it as a journey to find a piece of myself.  Because I know I share something with Mary Ann Pettway and the other quilters of Gee’s Bend.  I can see it in their quilts.

Click here to see more about Gee’s Bend.

34 thoughts on “Gee’s Bend Alabama, Here I Come

  1. OMG Maria! Congrats! This will be your most excellent adventure ever! So glad Jon stepped in there and made it happen now. How friggin excited are you? I’m excited for you! If you were here we could jump up and down and scream and squeal with delight!!!!!!

  2. What a wonderful opportunity for you! I can only imagine how amazing it will be to meet these women, see their work in person and sew along with them. I can’t wait to see what new inspiration you bring home from this trip.

  3. Oh, you are going to love this! I’ve heard of the quilters of Gee Bend, but I had no idea they had classes! To stay in a private home will give you such new insight into the uniqueness of the South. You should read Run With the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams before you go–it will give you such a vivid picture of the Old South – the vestiges of which my co blogging partner “C” and I remember (cause we are OLD enough) lol – and we are from the last generation to really live that and see that way of life and attitudes. Yes, we remember COLORED bathrooms and COLORED signs over water fountains and black people could only go to our city zoo on Tuesdays. My cousin, Donna, was raised by her black nanny, Elizabeth who worked for all the people in my family. She helped my grandmother prepare my bridesmaid luncheon! I’ll bet this will be a life changing event for you and the food will be wonderful. Most likely there will be barbecue and fried pies and sweet tea and wonderful hospitality. I’m glad America has changed and these women have received recognition for their art and craft. Now I’m going to have to find a way to go some day myself if I can talk a friend into going with me!

  4. I knew from my first glimpse at your work that the Gee’s Bend quilts were an inspiration for you, Maria, and reading this post this morning brought tears of joy for you to my eyes. WOW. I cannot wait to read about this trip. So very happy to know you will be following your creative path by going back to its roots. You will emerge from this journey, filled with such enthusiasm.

  5. Maria-
    As someone who has seen the Gee’s Bend quilts I know you will be in 7th heaven in Alabama. I remember seeing your work and seeing the resemblance and so was not surprised when you mentioned them as your inspiration. Don’t worry about staying with someone you don’t know. I’m sure there will be an immediate connection with these women. After all, they are artists as well. Concentrate on the positive and you will have an amazing experience. I’m glad you are getting to live your dreams.

  6. GOOD FOR YOU!!!

    WOW! Now I think I will take those glass blowing classes I have been secretly suppressing all these years! You continue to surprise and awe me Maria! Can’t wait to hear about the entire adventure. The sewing, the characters, the landscape, the food!

    Have a blast!
    Love & Peace,

  7. I am so happy for you Maria. This is wonderful. I bet these ladies will be flattered to hear your story and how they got you back doing your art. You are so lucky to have Jon and his support. I can’t wait to hear all about the trip. I grew up in Alabama and although I’ve never been to Gee’s Bend I can imagine the wonderful southern fellowship and food you will experience!!

  8. Gee’s Bend is just 250 miles from my house. I’ll have to make a day trip down there. I just googled the town. It’s not really a town, just some houses sprawled around the countryside. You’ll have so much fun with these ladies, I’m sure. Can’t wait to hear more about it. And you’ll be fine, don’t worry. People in the South are amazing and full of hospitality.

  9. Maria, so happy for you that you get to go meet the group of women (or at least a few of them) whose work guided you on your own path toward creativity and inspiration. No doubt, this will be an amazing trip on many levels…

  10. This sounds like a spiritual adventure to me! My soul is touched by your work like yours was touched by these wonderful women.

  11. Hi, Maria-
    I think it was Mary Ann who did the quilt workshop in Bridgeport at the start of the Gee’s Bend exhibit. I ran into someone who went to it, and they were beyond excited! So, you go girl! And don’t worry about not really knowing these ladies; people who are doing things they love recognize that in others, and it just makes ‘the getting to friendship’ path wicked easy. I can’t wait to see how their work will influence your work! Although please don’t stop doing things like the zombie chickens- they were well worth the wait!
    Bridgett E.

    1. It probably was Mary Ann, Bridgett. She travels all over giving work shops. I talked to her today, I think we’re going to have some fun together.

  12. I’m thrilled for you — you must tell us all about it — I saw an exhibit of their quilts at the Houston museum and it was fabulous — I was blown away by them — so glad you are going on what will surely be a life-altering trip!

  13. I’m so happy for you. I could feel the excitement through your words. You deserve to be on your
    soul’s journey.

  14. Oh Maria! This will be an adventure of a lifetime, really. I am thrilled beyond words that you will actually be among these amazing women, and will be able to live and work and experience their amazing history for 4 days! I watched a documentary about these women many years ago and see their same creativity in your work…….. I am almost speechless to know you will have this wonderful opportunity. Good for Jon for his endless encouragement and good for you for accepting the opening door into your creative soul!!!!!!
    Susan in Calif

  15. Maria, I am so happy to hear you will be travelling to my state. There are a lot of things to say about Alabama, but I believe you will come away with good memory of our people. We are the friendliest, most helpful and open people in the country, I believe. Godspeed and Enjoy!

  16. Wonderful! Hope you will have an opportunity to blog about this adventure, too. And share what you learn from these amazing quilters.

  17. I’m so happy and excited for you and for the Gee’s Bend quilters. They will love having you as a guest. Rock on, Maria!

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