Gee’s Bend Quilters at January Meeting

We started 2016 off with a good crowd of members and about a dozen visitors. Our new president, Connie Hitt, welcomed all, and Barb Peters gave the thought for the day. Martha Ginn introduced our speakers, Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway, quilters from the Gee’s Bend Collective from Boykin, Alabama.

Mary Ann Pettway

Mary Ann Pettway

China Pettway

China Pettway

Gee’s Bend is a small black community made up primarily of descendants of slaves who remained in this isolated region, virtually cut off from the outside world through geography and poverty. There was little contact with the outside world because of their location in the bend of the Alabama River, sometimes without a ferry operating to the mainland. Throughout the years the residents made quilts for warmth from pieces of worn-out clothing, employing a free-form style of hand stitching and quilting into bold and colorful designs of their own choosing. Their quilts were primitive and colorful, usually in strips without the benefit of patterns and books, and the craft was passed down in families. In the late 1990s, the quilts were discovered by collectors who saw artistic beauty in them, resulting in an exhibit at the Houston Museum of Art, followed by an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. A book was produced, a PBS documentary, and much publicity followed.

Mary Ann Pettway, seventh of 12 children, told of her love of singing and of quilting, saying “It’s not all about the quilts–it’s about Jesus.” She made her first quilt in 2005 after learning about the trips other quilters were making with a singing group. She began to be the manager of the collective in 2006 and helps other quilters have an outlet for selling their work. Some meet and work together; others work at home and bring in their pieces. All the quilting is done by hand.

China Pettway told of a hard life growing up in a family of 13 children who often went to bed hungry and woke up hungry. They picked cotton, raised vegetables, carried water from a spring up a hill to their house. She said they didn’t have adequate clothes and shoes and were often kept at home because of this. But she had such a hunger for education that she would sneak out the back door of the house and catch the school bus when she heard it coming. In spite of the poverty and isolation of a small community, both Mary Ann and China expressed deep gratitude to God for their blessings, saying they were happy and joyful.

Both women shared their deep religious faith as they sang: “I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone; Give me my flowers while I yet live” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

China and Mary Ann Pettway singing

China and Mary Ann Pettway singing

We helped them hold up and display some of their pieces, and at the break people got a closer look by handling the pieces on the table.

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Dianne McLendon called on everyone who had written a resolution in January of 2015 to report on their progress or lack thereof as she read the list. Many of the goals set had been reached. She introduced the Friendship Block, called Flower Pops, due in March, and gave kits to those wanting them.


Charitable Projects: We received 15 pillows, 17 small blankets, 18 scent pads, 22 walker totes, and six catheter covers. Mary Nell Magee reported that 10 children’s quilts had been turned in today and reminded us that kits with partially done quilts were available for quilters to take home and complete. After donating 160 quilts last month, we need to replenish our inventory.

Martha Ginn returned the quilts that were a part of the Tasha Tudor exhibit in downtown Hattiesburg and expressed the thanks and compliments of The Oddfellows Gallery for the display of the quilts. We heard that the quilts were a big hit and a marvelous addition to the Tasha Tudor artwork.

Workshop: Martha will teach the 4th Wednesday workshop (January 27th) on Color Bars: Free-Form Quiltmaking. She showed examples and had supply lists prepared.

Quilt Show October 7-8-9: Much early work has been done; the Information Page, Entry Form, and Categories are all available on the website under the Quilt Show tab. We will have printed copies at later meetings. The raffle quilt, Autumn Splendor, is well underway and should be completed by the February meeting for us to see. Kaye Christiansen has agreed to handle ticket sales; you will be hearing more soon. Remember, each member is responsible for at least 20 tickets. Many sell a hundred or more. It is quite easy–anyone who sees a picture is willing to buy tickets. We just have to show them! We have been told we will be able to have the Lakeview Room for judging. This will greatly help us move the schedule along, as well as reduce time quilts are held in bags during staging. Be thinking about what you will enter, and remember, there is a $3.00 discount per quilt for early entry. This will help us get our detailed catalog prepared.

We still need help in several areas, particularly preparing a hanging map. We will need everyone during the week of the show, so be sure to mark your calendars. We have to be out of Lake Terrace by 5:00 each day of preparation, by 7:00 the days of the show.

Membership Directory: Will be available at the February 10 regular meeting. Program for February is Pattern Drafting by Linda Flanders. Linda will also teach the 4th Wednesday workshop on Pattern Drafting two weeks later, on February 24.

Boutique: No boutique meeting in January. The February meeting will be on Thursday, February 4 in Choral Hall (note early date). Mary Nell Magee will lead the project for making an Ironing Tote/Pressing Pad. You can make one for yourself and one to sell in the boutique. A Supply list is on the website under the Guild Activities tab.

Courtesy Chair: Judy Byrd is the new courtesy chair. Please let her know of illness or special needs for a card from the group: 601-784-3049.