Born on 9 March 1901 near Bentonia, Mississippi, raised on plantations in the Delta, and educated in Yazoo City, Pecolia Leola Deborah Jackson was taught to sew at the age of seven by her mother, Katherine Brant Jackson, a schoolteacher, who also taught her daughter to cook, clean, wash, and iron. Her first quilt was made from little “strings” of rectangular cloth, sewn into long strips alternately pieced with solid strips to fashion a top quilt. The pattern, which Katherine Jackson called Spider Leg, is the oldest one known for African American quilters. It is similar to African textiles made by sewing woven strips together, and it is the one most often first taught to young children.
Pecolia Jackson married five times and became known as a quilter after her marriage to Sam Warner. She considered her quilt-making skills a gift from God. Inspired by memories of her mother’s quilts, by dreams, by pattern books, by household objects, and by farming artifacts, Warner’s quilts are in the mainstream of African American textile traditions, which are distinguished from Euro-American textile traditions by organizational strips; bold, contrasting colors; large designs; asymmetrical arrangements; multiple patterns; and improvisation. Warner often commented on the importance of having colors “hit each other right,” on how “stripping” a quilt brought out the designs, and how varying parts of a pattern made quilt designs more interesting.
Warner lived in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, working as a domestic servant for white employers. She first received attention as a folk artist in 1977 when folklorist William Ferris featured her in his film, Four Women Artists. Her quilts appeared in numerous exhibitions, including Folk Art and Craft: The Deep South, a traveling exhibition organized by the Center for Southern Folklore for the Smithsonian Institution. She was a featured artist at folklife festivals in the late 1970s. After suffering a series of small strokes, she died in March 1983.
- Patti Carr Black, ed., Made by Hand: Mississippi Folk Art (1980)
- William Ferris, ed., Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts (1983)
- Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy (1983)
- John Michael Vlach, The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts (1978)
- Maude Southwell Wahlman, in Something to Keep You Warm, ed. Patti Carr Black (1981)
- Maude Southwell Wahlman with John Scully, in Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts, ed. William Ferris (1983)
- Maude Southwell Wahlman with Ella King Torrey, Ten Afro-American Quilters (1983)