I have put myself “out there” with all my heart twice before in my life. I’m undertaking this project (for now I refer to as #StoriesToTell2016) in a similar but very different way. Recently when describing what I’ve been working on now for about a year, someone whose advice I greatly appreciate told me to “get it all out of my head and onto paper,” so that’s what I’ve recently been working on completing.
My paternal grandmother (“Big Mama”) was an amazing quilt-maker. Back then she made them for her family and community out of necessity for warmth and protection but always with love. Every stitch to create the top layer, every walk to cotton fields to handpick the cotton, prepare and stretch it for nestling between her quilt tops and backs, and the tireless hours she spent quilting the layers together, was done with care and love. As she gifted her quilts to her children, and her children to their children, one day around 20 years ago I realized that I wanted to learn how to hand stitch quilts so that while my quilts may not be as beautiful as hers, I would in some way be able to carry on her craft and legacy. So I read, took classes and learned to quilt. I loved it! I have to admit, though, since I last completed a child’s quilt top a number of years ago, I haven’t sewn a stitch since then. “Life” got in the way and I forgot the pleasure I took in the quiet moments of stitching and reflecting.
Connecting with my past in another way, years ago I helped my Dad renovate his home house where he and his siblings were born and raised by Big Mama and Big Daddy. Now I’ll be the first to says I’m no lover of all things found at Home Depot, nor have I every been known to have a “green thumb” when it comes to planting or keeping plants alive, lol. However, something happened during this time I took on the many tasks helping my Dad on his home house. I found myself becoming emerged in the project, doing things I’d never done before and I must say doing a pretty darn good job at it! I did everything from wallpapering, laying border on the walls, painting the interior and exterior of the house, and planting, yes, planting! One quiet, breezy afternoon, after having painted the banister on the front porch, I was walking from the front to the back yard with my sketchbook, looking at what remained of Big Mama’s flowers and plants that she had maintained and still survived years after she’d passed away. I was sketching a layout of what flowers and plants I wanted to get from the nursery and plant and how I wanted to landscape the yard with them. I paused while looking at all the notes and sketches I’d made and wondered if I’d “bitten off more than I could chew.” I felt a breeze on my cheeks, heard the trees rustling and swaying, and I heard Big Mama’s voice softly call my name. In that moment I felt her give me her blessing, love and encouragement.
As I’m working on my ancestral project and find myself passing my hands along the tops of some of her quilts that have been passed on to me. I can feel her presence. Especially when it comes to the pieces I have of what may well have been her last quilt project that she wasn’t able to finish. I’ve started where she left off and am working on stitching the pieces together and finishing the quilt. In a similar way to when I was following in her footsteps and planting flowers and plants that I know she like to plant throughout her yard, I feel her love and encouragement. As I start to bring the project together, I feel the love and encouragement of my ancestors – many who passed before I was even born but who I have priceless photos or have heard stories about.
I have a ways to go – I have many photographs passed through generations; I have notes from countless hours spent researching my ancestral history as far back as the 17th century; I have audio tapes of stories told to me by my Dad and uncle/godfather; antique pieces of my past that will be on display or part of installation or mixed media works of art. Gathering all this together and laying out how I see it in my head as an exhibit has been the enjoyable, fulfilling part. Now comes the real work – getting funding for art restoration and exhibit preparation, booking gallery or museum space, completing the layout of how I see everything flowing in the exhibit, and all the other details and steps that are involved in putting together an exhibit of this size.
I am committed that this will culminate in 2016. I’ve made this commitment to myself, my Dad and Uncles, to Big Mama, and to all my ancestors who came before me who are waiting for me to tell their stories through my photography, ancestral photos, antiques and other artwork.
In beginning this process of hand stitching and finishing the quilt my grandmother started, I know that with each stitch, with each touch of my fingers brushing over the pieces she lovingly and tirelessly stitched by hand, she’s passing along her love to me. She approves and that means everything to me. Finishing what she started means everything.
Till Next Time,