quilt squares with that's sew gee's bend
Instructed by Claudia Pettway Charley and Andrea Pettway Williams, participants will learn quilting techniques used for generations in Gee's Bend (Boykin), Alabama. Learn more about Gee's Bend, their international significance, and their role in the Civil Rights Movement by reading more below.
Attendance is limited and masks are required. All appropriate COVID protocols will be followed.
Dates: March 12-13, 2021
Times: Friday, March 12: 1-4pm; Saturday, March 13: 9am-4:30pm
Location: Kentuck Art Center's Georgine Clarke Building classroom
Participants are asked to bring any fabric they would like to incorporate in their square. Kids 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult. No experience necessary - all levels of experience welcome.
This workshop is sponsored in part by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, with additional programming support from the Alabama Humanities Alliance.
Meet the Instructors
Claudia Pettway Charley
“When I was a small child, I would play underneath my grandmother’s quilting frame that covered most of the living room,” explained Claudia. Her grandmother, Malissa Pettway, her mother Tinnie, and Aunt Minnie are accomplished quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Although Claudia says she had no special training, she is the fourth generation of Gee’s Bend Quilters. Claudia’s artistic ideas follow the Gee’s Bend style that comes from the heart, but when “energized” she uses brighter colors. She works early in the morning with all types of fabric all around her—including cotton, denim, and linen. Claudia can create the small pieces in one day; however, wall art and larger pieces take two to three weeks to complete. Claudia attributes her artistic style to the Black Belt region of Alabama. She says the freedom of feeling and expression with “no rules or judgements, just you and your material,” is an essential part of her process.
Claudia is the CEO of That’s Sew Gee’s Bend and has taught privately with Alabama Folklife, Hobby Lobby, and other small groups. That’s Sew Gee’s Bend’s work is available at Kentuck Art Center’s Gallery Shop, Alabama Goods in Homewood, The Birmingham Museum of Art, and Goat Hill Art Museum in Montgomery.
Meet the Instructors
Andrea Pettway Williams
Andrea Pettway Williams has exhibited her work in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Andrea is the daughter of Lorraine Pettway; she and Claudia are cousins.
Image courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
Learn more about Gee's Bend
In the Black Belt of Alabama lives a small, rural community called Gee’s Bend. Known throughout the art world for the vibrant, improvisational quilts unique to the Gee’s Bend Quilters, the community of Gee’s Bend, officially called Boykin, has a history rooted in the disenfranchisement of African Americans. The area is named for Joseph Gee, a landowner who moved from North Carolina in the early 1800s and established a cotton plantation, which was later sold to Mark Pettway. Even after emancipation, many of the Gee’s Bend residents found themselves staying on the plantation as sharecroppers, and today, the seven hundred or so inhabitants of this small, rural community are mostly descendants of these slaves who worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation.
The community of Gee’s Bend is an inland island surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. The only direct line to Camden and the “outside” world was the ferry. In 1962, white government officials closed the ferry to Gee’s Bend, making it nearly impossible for the Black residents of Gee’s Bend to register to vote in Camden, the county seat. In addition to preventing these residents from registering to vote, the ferry closure further isolated the community and deprived them of essential services like medical care. Without the ferry, the only route to Camden was a forty mile drive on rural, ill kept roads, and most of Gee’s Bend’s residents did not own a car. Sheriff Lummie Jenkins reportedly said, “We didn’t close the ferry because they were black. We closed it because they forgot they were black.”
In 1965, three weeks before Bloody Sunday, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Gee’s Bend and told the residents, “I came over here to Gee’s Bend to tell you: You are somebody.” However, despite local efforts, not a single member of the Gee’s Bend community was able to register to vote in Wilcox County during the Civil Rights Movement. Ferry service between Camden and Gee’s Bend was not restored until 2006, over forty years since service was suspended.