Conversations with My Grandmothers

In Her Mother-In-Law’s House
Curry Chicken with Rice N Peas
Food From the Land
Colonial Exports
Sunday Dinner
Only Child in a Large Family
Bird Of Paradise
Cut Flowers Wilting
Anansy’s New Web
A Conversation with My Grandmothers , 2007
Curry, beans/peas, coffee, greens, onion, blackberry & logwood dyed household linens, on canvas

Scouring thrift stores, I collect all the hand made household textiles I can find.  I imagine the histories behind the items.  That someone’s grandmother or great-aunt spent endless hours carefully crocheting the lace edges of table runners, place mats, doilies, and napkins; perhaps they were wedding gifts, or for her own home.   How do items of such love end up in the thrift store; hours of work discarded, sold for less than a dollar?  Had the recipient of the gift not seen its labour, did the owner pass away and her family give them to charity?   
The unknown histories of these items lead me to remember similar textiles in my parent’s home.  They all come from my paternal grandmother.  A white table cloth with hand-made lace edging, doilies that my mother kept in her dresser drawers, burn marks on the one that used as a hot plate.  There was always a tension around these textiles; I suspect they were, for the most part, alien to my mother’s life prior to moving into my father’s family home in Canada.  I wondered what my mother thought of these items.  Things made in times of leisure, utilitarian yet frivolous.  Growing up I sensed some fear and protection over them.  For formal dinners my father would bring out his mother’s table cloth, mom would cringe over wine spills.  Later in my childhood when mom made a table cloth with matching place mats she choose dark blue with bold patterns on the quilted place-mats, they hid the inevitable stains and burns, practical, durable, washable.
As I began dyeing every bit of material I could fit into my two dye pots I became even more attracted to dying textiles with foods; of staining the trace of the foods consumed onto the table setting.  My library of now coloured domestic linens began to be paired into formal studies; studies that spoke little stories to me.  Little conversations.  What would my Swedish grandmother think of me?  What would she have thought of her son marrying a black woman?  Would she have had to overcome the same cultural biases her surviving sister had? Would we have been accepted immediately?  How did my mother resolve the chasm between her new culture and her past?  What was forgotten, what was passed on?  What was deemed important enough to save?  What was buried and left behind?  What can I salvage? Are there things best left forgotten?

7 thoughts on “Conversations with My Grandmothers

  1. I love reading your stories cus. I get the feeling you have a lot of question you would like to know the answers to, i know aunty will answer some of them for you, go ahead and ask her.

  2. Hi Stacey,

    I would love to read the different ‘chapters’ you have noted above in “Conversations with My Grandmothers” . How do I connect to the other topics please?

    Fascinating work.



  3. Hi Dawn, each of the chapters you mentioned are visual chapters. The headings refer to the individual panels that make up the piece, each panel representing an internal or imagined conversation. Images of the installed piece are on the Textiles page. I’ll expand on the panels in a future posts but i’ll give you an example. The bottom image on this post is one of my “sunday dinner” pieces – there have been a few versions of this – in Jamaica the traditional Sunday dinner is curried chicken with rice & peas (rice cooked with red beans. So for these pieces i paired napkins dyed with kidney beans with doilies dyed with curry.

    Thanks for following & all your responces. I’ll send you an email of stories of our grandfather soon.

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