What's your craft legacy? Have you ever really thought about it? Who or what in your memories or in your childhood influenced you to create? It may have been your parents, your aunt, or uncle, or your elementary school art teacher...someone inspired you to create...to make "something out of nothing."
I come from a long line of "makers" all of whom influenced me in some way. Until a generation ago, we were farmers and crafts people. One of my greatest "influencers" was my great grandmother.
Born in 1889, my great grandmother lived in a time and place where "making" was a necessity. Nearly every piece of clothing, every curtain, anything that was used in the home was made by hand. She was skilled in sewing, lace-making, crocheting, and quilting, Bertha Isabelle Gray-Stone was an accomplished crafter.
Photographed here on the farm in Kentucky in November of 1918 with her children and her sister Ivy, it's likely that she sewed most of the clothing for everyone in the photo. And typically, those clothes were handed down to the younger ones in the family...and after those clothes no longer fit anyone in her growing family, they were relegated to a bin to be cut up for quilts.
She quilted throughout her nearly 100 year life and created a body of work in quilts that tells her family story, stitch by stitch and piece by piece.
During the summer, tending the garden and preserving food was the priority. Winter was the quilting season. Every year, Bertha and her sisters and daughters cut 1000's of pieces of scraps to be sewn together and quilted. Some of my earliest memories of visiting my great grandmother are of sitting around, with piles of fabric, cutting and piecing. And often, they let me cut pieces to be quilted. Small geometric paper patterns were pinned to fabric pieces to be cut out. After the pieces were cut, they were stacked into neat piles of pieces that were later hand pieced together. Sometimes I was allowed to cut,other times I got to count...and there were usually 300 or more pieces per pile. After the required number of pieces were cut, the stitching and piecing began. Each piece, sewn by hand, was joined to another piece, creating larger blocks that would eventually be sewn together, kind of like a family that expands and grows with each marriage and birth. After a careful study to determine which colors and patterns looked best side by side, blocks were laid out and the quilt design was developed. As I remember long discussions about which blocks to place together, and usually each was placed beside another that told a story of family memories. After the blocks were pieced together, large quilting frames were set up, and then the hand quilting began. It was a a long process to quilt by hand and often neighbor ladies or friends from church would come to make the work go faster. In turn, great grand mother would lend a hand when her friends were quilting their quilts. I remember running around, and under the frames and getting in trouble for it more than once.
In the mid 1980's, as my great grandmother approached her 100th birthday, someone in our family had the presence of mind to document her quilt collection with photos. The quilts were hung on lines between her house and the smokehouse and photographed.
Luckily, I discovered the photos in a box of photos over the holidays and scanned them so we'd have a digital record too. Seeing the photographs after many years, made me think about my craft legacy and the influence my great grandmother had in making me a crafter. Not only did I learn some technical skills like cutting and hand-stitching, but I learned lessons in composition and color compatibility too. And more importantly, I learned that objects and materials can be re-purposed and given a different life or use than that for which they were originally intended. That's very important fodder for an artist; the ability to see beyond.
Photographed here when she was nearly 100 years old, my great grandmother stands in front of nearly a century of handmade family history, documented by small pieces of fabric that were lovingly selected, cut and stitched by together one piece at a time. My craft legacy is rich one; a legacy that reaches back a century, and influences me every day. I think it's the reason I love to distress surfaces, use old-fashioned techniques like accordion folding and quilling, and find ways to use vintage photos in my art. It's a connection I feel to my personal and family history.
Have you ever asked yourself, "what is my craft legacy?"
Who influenced you to create? I would love to hear your answers and why....while our individual stories and legacies will all be different, we're all connected by the innate human need to create.
Go make it a great day...create something!