Loretta Pettway is an American artist and quilt maker of the Gee’s Bend Collective from Boykin, Alabama. Her quilts are known for their bold and improvisational style.
Loretta Pettway grew up in disjointed homes with laborious chores and responsibilities. Her mother left the family when Loretta was about seven years old. Her father, Famous Pettway, remarried Plummer T. Pettway, but Loretta was raised primarily by her grandmother, Prissy. She was also the primary caretaker of her disabled brother.
Her schooling was also fragmentary. Loretta typically went to school during October, November, and December, between harvests. Otherwise, all of the rest of her time was spent harvesting and attending to her brother.
Loretta married an abusive man who drank, smoked, and was very jealous. She raised seven children, who also began farming at an early age.
Loretta is one of the only quilters interviewed by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation who expressed contempt for learning to quilt. She recalls, “I didn’t like to sew. Didn’t want to do it. I had a handicapped brother and I had to struggle. I had a lot of work to do.” However, her grandmother Prissy was adamant about her learning to quilt, insisting that it was a skill that would be useful later in her life. This proved true when Loretta moved into her home, which only had one heated room, as an adult. “But when I got me a house, a raggly old house, then I needed them to keep warm. We only had heat in the living room, and when you go out of that room you need cover. I had to get up about four, five o’clock, and get coal. Make a fire. Them quilts done keep you warm.”
She first learned how to quilt by assisting her grandmother with assembling patches, threading needles, etc. her first quilt was a “Nine Patch” quilt made when she was eleven. Now, she has a variety of patterns in her oeuvre.