This summer I'm participating in a photography exhibition that highlights material objects in women's lives. Each participant chooses an object they've inherited from a woman in their family and writes a short essay about the significance of the object. The essays will be displayed with photographs of the objects as well as photos of the mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers...from whom the objects originated. I chose this quilt that my mom gave to me. The quilt began with my great great grandmother and has been passed down through five generations.
This quilt originated with my great great grandmother who passed it down to her daughter, my great grandmother, who passed it down to her daughter and so on through five generations until it was passed down to me. I stretch out on my stomach with feet kicked up, running my fingers across the colorful squares of quilted fabric. I trace the mint green tulips and pink palm leaves; my imagination weaves fairy tales about the white crescent moons and tangerine suns. Such storytelling is inevitable with a quilt like this. Each block of fabric has a history to uncover. A blue elephant donning a top hat and cane dances across the lower edge. Did this jaunty pachyderm once tap tap tap across a baby blanket? In the center of the quilt a universe of creamy white stars melts into a seafoam sky. Did this space scape once glow and pulse within the curtains of a young boy’s room? Several small squares are saturated in maroon with audacious bursts of white. Were these popping dots proudly worn by a young woman on her first day of high school? The colors and shapes of each square reveal a history--a personal narrative nestled beneath the arc of a line or hidden within a deep shade of green. And yet, when joined together, these variegated pieces of fabric form a grand visual narrative and a collective human history. The quilt uses her language of color and form to speak of birth and growth, passage and curiosity, mystery and communion.
Still tracing my fingers along the quilt, I am awed by the realization that this blanket stitches together the lives of five women. When I get up in the morning and fold my quilt, I think of my mom’s hands folding the quilt and my grandmother’s hands and my great grandmother’s hands and my great great grandmother’s hands. We are all echoes of each other, our movements a response to the previous generation’s call. And when I wrap myself in the quilt at night, I am visited by the gentle, ghostly forms of my matriarchal line who remind me from where I came. We are separate and we are one. We are living and we are dead. The curve and hue of our experiences are different. And yet, when joined together, our varied lives form a grand narrative that speaks distinctly of indomitable womanhood.