Gee’s Bend quilters have outlet at Birmingham, Ala., store

1960s Gees Bend Christmas quilt. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Slotin Folk Art.

1960s Gees Bend Christmas quilt. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Slotin Folk Art.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – Four years ago, Claudia Pettway Charley of Birmingham set up a website to sell quilts made by her mother, one of the original Gee’s Bend quilters, and others from her hometown.

Thanks to a partnership between Pettway Charley and her husband, De’Lon Charley, with Greystone Antiques & Marketplace, the quilts that put the tiny Wilcox County community of Gee’s Bend on the map are now available to the public in Alabama’s largest metro area.

Their couple’s company, That’s Sew Gee’s Bend of Birmingham, has been leasing space inside Greystone Antiques since November, and the store’s manager says the Gee’s Bend quilts have been popular with her patrons.

That’s Sew Gee’s Bend was formed as “a labor of love” to allow her mother, Tinnie Pettway, and aunt, Minnie Pettway, to take their products to Birmingham, De’Lon Charley said.

“Though the quilts are here in Birmingham, That’s Sew Gee’s Bend is 100 percent born and bred in Gee’s Bend,” he said.

Pettway Charley said she and her husband decided to form their own company to carry original quilts made by her mother and other members of the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective.

 

“Our goal is to provide an outlet to help those quilters get what they deserve for their hard work,” said Pettway Charley, whose company gets a consignment commission for each sale.

She said the popularity of the quilts over the past decade established Gee’s Bend reputation, but many tourists who visit the area or come to buy them are surprised at how little the community has changed.

“We are an outlet for them,” Pettway Charley said. “Our hope is that we will provide an avenue to revitalize the Gee’s Bend community.”

Pettway Charley said the That’s Sew Gee’s Bend spot inside Greystone Antiques has original quilts ranging from $500 to $10,000 or more. They also sell potholders designed by her mother and other Gee’s Bend quilters that cost from $15 to $25.

“The potholders have been our biggest sellers,” she said.

Pettway Charley said her company works with a marketing company formed by another Birmingham couple originally from Gee’s Bend, John and Tanya Pettway, who are cousins.

Pettway Charley said her company has a publishing arm that sells her mother Tinnie’s book of poems, The Gee’s Bend Experience – Vol. 1. Since it was released in November 2008, her mother and Aunt Minnie have toured bookstores across Alabama, sharing their experiences growing up in Gee’s Bend and history of the quilts. Her mother is working on a second volume to be released this fall.

Last May, the Pettway family reopened the original Boykin Mercantile store in Gee’s Bend and helped unveil the Gee’s Bend historic state landmark plaque.

“Our near-future goals include a gift shop, restaurant and lodging and, in the process, establishing our nonprofit divisions of our company, Taking Back Gee’s Bend, which will bring tourism developments, improve public services, provide jobs, training and opportunities to be given to our community,” Pettway Charley said.

De’Lon Charley said their goal is to help revitalize Gee’s Bend.

“We want to bring jobs and hotels to the area,” he said. “When people come to visit, they have to stay in Camden, which is 50 miles away, or in nearby Selma because there are no hotels in Gee’s Bend.”

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