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Housetop Quilt

ca. 1990
Origin: America, Alabama, Gee's Bend
OH: 73" x OW: 78"
Cotton, polyester
Museum Purchase, Dr. and Mrs. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. Fund
Acc. No. 2008.609.10
Rectangular quilt with a design of four bold squares within squares. Textiles include solid fabrics, dots, a Southwest-inspired print, and teddy bears. The bedcover is hand quilted with running stitches and backed with white that was brought to the front to form a narrow edge finish.
Label:The African-American quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama, are valued for their vibrancy, graphic qualities, bold colors, and creative expression of the women who made them. The Housetop pattern of concentric squares was a favored motif in the community. Rita Mae Pettway, who had descended from slaves, created a dynamic quilt with great artistry within the abstract pattern. She combined solid fabrics with polka dots, a Southwest-inspired print originally used for bed sheets, and printed teddy bears.

Rita Mae Pettway, known as Rabbit, was reared by her grandparents Annie E. and Ed O. Pettway after her mother’s death when Rita Mae was only four years old. Annie and Ed also helped to rear their great-grandchildren, including Louisiana P. Bendolph, who later recalled memories of her childhood on the farm and having to work in the cotton fields: “My mom [Rita Mae] worked hard to make our life better than hers. . . .She was a single mom with five kids by then, and we had to work in order to survive. Life was hard, but we did what we had to.” Despite a life of hard physical labor, the women found time to quilt and pass their knowledge to the next generation. When she was about six or seven years old, Louisiana and her siblings played under the quilt while their mother, their great-grandmother, and two aunts all joined in stitching together: “We would sit under the quilt and I would watch the needle going in and out of the fabric. I loved watching and playing under the quilts.”

Rita Mae approached her quilt making with an artist’s eye. She recounted that she would hang quilts on the line in the yard to analyze their design: “During the summertime when I’m making them, that’s when I used to hang them out there and just stand out in the yard. And sometime I walk down the road and look at them from the opposite side, then back on that side. . . . I was looking for a design that I had put in it. A lot of times when you’re making a quilt, you can’t really see the design in it until you get a good piece away from it, or either after you finish it.”
Provenance:Jim Hager.
Purchased from Shelly Zegart, 2008.