Gee's Bend quilt 'Pig in the Pen'

Quilt with a pattern of colourful squares

Gee's Bend is a small rural community settled in the curve of the Alabama River on the site of a former cotton plantation owned by Joseph Gee and his relatives. Over the centuries the women there have developed a bold, distinctive quilting style based on traditional American and African American quilts. The tradition has been passed down through the family to the artist and maker of this quilt, Arlonzia Pettway, whose great grandmother was an enslaved African.

This quilt, titled ‘Pig in the Pen’ by Arlonzia Pettway, is designed in a series of blocks known as household blocks. It is just over 2 metres or 85 inches square in size.

  • Polyester blends and cotton
  • Made by Arlonzia Pettway, born 1923, Alabama, USA
portrait photo of an old lady

Arlonzia Pettway. David Raccuglia photograph, 2000. Courtesy of Tinwood

Arlonzia Pettway

Arlonzia Pettway was born in 1923. Her reminiscences are quoted courtesy of 'Gees Bend: The Women and Their Quilts' (Atlanta: Tinwood Books, 2002), pp250-251 and 'The Quilts of Gee's Bend' (Atlanta: Tinwood Books, 2002), pp96-97.

"I worked on the farm with my brother Ike. He runned the farm after Daddy passed in 1941. I had started working in the field when I was twelve. I did all the usual stuff people do on a farm. I was twenty years old when I married Jennie Pettway's son, Bizzell. He was a farmer, too. Everybody was a farmer in those days. I had twelve children - four girls and eight boys. Everybody had the same crops in Gee's Bend the first ten years we farm: cotton, corn, peas, sweet potatoes. After that, we started raising turnips and cucumbers to sell to some company in Montgomery. We did that for five or six years. After that, my husband went to New York to work on a farm where they were picking peas. He done all kinds of different things up there for three years straight. He'd go last of June and stay until September.

Everybody had a log cabin when I was young. Every family built their own log cabin. The family would get together; all the men would help. About seven or eight men would get together to build a house. They would do it for each other for nothing. You didn't have to do nothing but cook some food for them. But that was before I was born. That's what my daddy tell me that's what they do. And they went from one place to another. If you needed something, they do it for you - no charge.

At first, we had a log cabin with just two rooms to it. We lived in that cabin until I was seventeen years old. Then the government came along and gave us the project houses. We had three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dining room. I added three or four more rooms to this house, and two bathrooms - we didn't have no indoor plumbing. I got running water in here in 1974. I got electricity in here before my husband passed, I believe about 1964. My first telephone was around 1976.

I used to like to make some of everything. I made TV cabinets, made me a bed about fifteen years ago, bookshelf, planters that I use outdoors. A man gave me a buoy out of the river, and I put a car wheel rim on it and made a flowerpot. I knew how to do things. When I was nine years old, I made my sister a dress and me a dress out of blue taffeta cloth. My mama saw those two dresses and thought they was bought made. She showed those dresses off to everybody. I just had a head for doing anything. It was just born in me to make things."