Louisiana Pettway Bendolph2003

Souls Grown Deep

Souls Grown Deep
Atlanta, United States

In 2002 my mom [Rita Mae Pettway] called and invited me to go with her to Houston for the opening of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit. That was the first time I really had heard anything about the quilt exhibit and book. People had been going to Gee’s Bend and buying quilts for years, but nobody had really done anything before. People got quilts and left and that was the end of it. We never got anything more out of it. I guess most of us had just thought this would be the same. We really didn’t think anything of it. Most of us had no idea what to expect. I was just going because my mom asked me. They mentioned something about the quilts in a museum, but I had never been to a museum and didn’t know what to expect. When I got to Houston, I saw the book for the first time and saw my quilt with my name next to it. I was shocked. Just shocked. I couldn’t believe my name was actually in a book. I see my name on maps, but that means the state, and I see my name on hot sauce, and that means the brand name, but I never thought I’d see Louisiana and it would mean Louisiana Pettway Bendolph. They gathered the women onstage and asked me to come onstage, too. I felt like I didn’t belong with those women because I had moved away from Gee’s Bend. I thought it was for them to be honored, but they asked me to join them. I had left home, but I was there so much that it felt like I had never left. I guess home is just home. I live in Mobile, but Gee’s Bend is still home and always will be.

Then we went to see the exhibit. When I got to my great-grandmother’s quilt, I cried. I cried to see our history and our past up on the walls, and realizing that “Mama” [Annie E. Pettway] had left a legacy. She was gone. We hadn’t forgotten her, but no one else in the world knew who she was. And then to see her quilt hanging on the wall, it was so beautiful. When she had died, she was just “Mama,” but now she had been reborn as someone who people were respecting, and all of a sudden she was important to other people in a way she had only been to us. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was so overjoyed inside. She had helped to raise me. After her stroke, I helped take care of her. My strongest memories of her were late in her life after she was ill, of her having to be taken care of. When I saw her beautiful artwork on the wall, it took me back in time, back to a time before I knew her, before I was born, when she was a whole person with all of her abilities. I could now picture her in her happier times. She had done something important. I could see that now. She never got to go places or do anything. I felt like in spirit she was there with her quilt and with me. I remember how Mama and them used to pray for better things for their children. And I remember when I saw her quilt, I could see her face so plain, and I felt like she could see it, too. When I travel now, she is there with me. She is now known all over the world. In a way, she’s still alive in that quilt.

We went through and saw our aunts’ and sisters’ and moms’ and neighbors’ quilts on the walls, and it was breathtaking. I see work that they had done. They didn’t make them and think that anyone would ever see them, and here they were with all of these people looking at them. To me, that’s the best thing that could ever have happened to our community.

When I was coming back from Houston on the bus, I started having visions of quilts. At first I didn’t pay any attention to them. They just kept coming. I tried to ignore them. I said, I really just don’t want to do that anymore; I’m done making quilts. But they wouldn’t leave me alone. I thought, I’ve just been to a quilt show, and that’s why the images are in my mind. But the images I was seeing didn’t look like anything I had seen in the show or anywhere else. I ignored them. But they didn’t stop. So I got a pencil and a piece of paper and drew them out. I thought that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. Finally I decided that I would get some fabric and make a quilt. I thought my days of making quilts were over, just part of my past, like planting corn and picking cotton. But the images wouldn’t go away. So I made another quilt, and then another, and then another. And I’ve kept on doing it because those images won’t leave me alone.


  • Title: Strips
  • Creator: Louisiana Pettway Bendolph
  • Creator Lifespan: b. 1960
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Date Created: 2003
  • Physical Dimensions: 74 x 69 in. (188 x 175.3 cm)
  • Subject Keywords: Gee's Bend, Black art, African American art
  • Type: Quilt
  • Rights: © Louisiana Pettway Bendolph / Photo: Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio
  • External Link: https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/louisiana-p-bendolph
  • Medium: Corduroy

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