Quilts as Art – Emerald Bledsoe’s special talent and where it came from

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Emerald is the most artistic Bledsoe sister. She doesn’t sit in a corner and paint all day. What I mean by her artistry is that she shows her creative expression through the beauty of her sewing and her hairdressing skills. Her quilt creations strike the eye the moment someone steps foot into the Bledsoe house. In between her sewing dresses for her sisters from a very early age, Emerald stays busy by creating beautiful quilts from the worn out scraps around the Bledsoe home.

A picture of a quilt on display at The Charleston Museum. The Gee’s Bend quilts are much more free form than this one.

Emerald’s character originates from two places. One is from Alice Walker’s title essay in her phenomenal reflections, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. In the title essay, Walker talks about the ways that her African American female ancestors managed to maintain their creative expression despite the atmosphere of oppression that surrounded them. It’s a theme that echoes throughout Walker’s work, even in her often-anthologized short story, “Everyday Use.” The other place where I obtained the idea of Emerald’s expression is through the real-life examples of the women artists from Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

If you have not seen the documentary The Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, you should.  Made about ten years ago, this excellent documentary will make you laugh, cry and empathize with these quilters.  Descendants of the Pettway plantation, these women have been creating quilts since the beginning of the twentieth century. They still create the quilts by hand, but the artists from the earlier part of the century have been featured in art museums around the world. They had an exhibit in Atlanta in 2006 at the High Museum. The quilters don’t see anything special about their wonderful artistry, but see their pieces of art as a way to keep warm during the piercingly cold Alabama winters. The earlier examples of the quilts are works of art that retail into the thousands of dollars. Their attitude about their artistry is an example for conduct as artists.  Art is an expression to please the self and to be purposeful in life. Those who like the art, fine and those who don’t–well, that’s fine as well.

I’ll try harder to keep their example in mind. I have even tried to quilt before, but it went horribly wrong. Their attitudes toward their art, as well as their patience in creating the quilts, is exemplary.

Emerald is the Bledsoe sister who has undiagnosed special needs but she continues to contribute to her world. I would like to tell you about a special giveaway that is going on all month that is for my friend, Kennedy Ryan and Autism Awareness Month:

A Message From Kennedy Ryan

April is Autism Awareness month. That might not even register on some people’s radars, but my family has lived with Autism for the last 11 years, since my son was diagnosed. My book WHEN YOU ARE MINE releases June 17 and provides a unique opportunity for me to combine my passion for writing and Autism advocacy. I’m donating 25% of my royalties from this book to resourcing families living with Autism. 

Learn more about Autism and the 1 in 68 children diagnosed from my charitable partner, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).

Celebrate all the gladiators out there – kids, adults, families, siblings – living with Autism by entering the Autism Awareness Giveaway! Great cause! Great prizes!

Thank you!

Kennedy Ryan

Twitter   Facebook  Website

Amazon  B&N  Goodreads

BLURB:

Forever is a heartbeat away . . .

Kerris Moreton knows how to make things work. Bounced from foster home to foster home as a kid, she adapted; when opportunity arose, she thrived. Now, about to open her own business and accept a marriage proposal, Kerris is ready to build the life she’s always wanted. The only thing missing? A passionate connection with her would-be fiancé, Cam. Kerris wants to believe that sparks are overrated-until Walsh Bennett lights her up like the Fourth of July.

. . . but what about love?

As one of the East Coast’s most eligible bachelors, Walsh enjoys financial independence, fulfilling work with his family’s nonprofit, and plenty of female attention. But lately he’s been distracted by the one woman he can’t have. Lovely to look at and even sweeter to know, Kerris is the soul mate Walsh never thought he would find. The problem is, his best friend found her first . . .
There are two (Amazon and iTunes) $25.00 giftcards as well as Godiva chocolate available in the giveaway! Click on the link below to enter.   Make sure to scroll down:

LINK:
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/ZTQzMTk4N2YwYjQxZjI5MTFkNTljNjY0ZDc1ZGQ5OjM0/

 

Happy Birthday Blog!

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I started this blog one year ago this month.  I’ve learned a lot in this past year and I hope you have too.  However, as we learn as we grow older, change happens.  So, there will be some changes to this blog.  Starting this month, I will  blog here twice a month on the historical background for my novels–on the second and forth Sundays.

 

If there are any bulletins to share about my writing journey, I will also post them here as necessary. I have been asked to join two group blogs and I hope you will join me there.

 

On Tuesday April 8, I will post as a member of Petit Fours and Hot Tamales. My posts there will be along the lines of “A Day in the Life”–enabling my audience to learn more about me as a person.

http://www.petitfoursandhottamales.com/

 

I am also a member of the Modern Belles of History blog. There I will post about women in the early part of the  twentieth century.  My first post there will be Monday, April 14.

http://modernbellesofhistory.com/

 

I will post from my blog to remind you of the group blogs, but given all of your wonderful attentions over this first year, I wanted to let you know how things are changing as I continue on this writing journey. Thank you so much for your support and may God bless each one of you.

 

 

African American Midwives and Ruby Bledsoe, a shining pride

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A midwife handling her charge in the 1920′s. From The Washington Post.

I want to wrap up this Women’s History Month by celebrating a group of unsung women. They will forever remain anonymous to us but a lot of our ancestors wouldn’t be here without the diligent efforts of African American midwives or grannies, as they were called. My heroine from A Virtuous Ruby, Ruby Bledsoe, is a midwife. Despite Ruby’s youth, the old midwife of Winslow, Miss Ann, wanted to give Ruby some way of working a profession that didn’t require her to work in other people’s kitchens and allowed her a certain amount of freedom and dignity.

Ruby’s story takes place in 1915 and she represents the end point of history when these midwives thrived. These women who went out of their way to provide help and care for a woman at a most vulnerable time in a woman’s life. In the South at the turn of the twentieth century, African American midwives were the norm. Women, no matter what their racial heritage was, were happy to have these midwives come into their homes to help them maintain a sense of calm in a process that could have created a lot of upheaval. A book like Listen to Me Good, by Margaret Charles Smith helped me to structure birthing situations in my novel that allowed my Ruby to shine in her work.

 
However, at about that same time, early in the twentieth century, physicians became interested in the lucrative possibilities of birth. So then began two campaigns. One—the public campaign—was to dispatch public health officials to the midwives to “train them” on how to do things properly. The other campaign was more insidious, whisper tactics to have people begin to think of midwives as dirty and unsanitary. Both campaigns collided and effectively, put midwives out of business. These overlapping campaigns form the heart of the conflict for A Virtuous Ruby, when handsome physician, Adam Morson comes to town and is not at all impressed by Ruby’s midwifery skills. Fortunately things work out well for Adam and Ruby. The story is not so wonderful for African American midwives.

 
By the midpoint of the twentieth century, it was commonplace for women to have their babies in hospitals. However, the current rates of mother and child mortality, for a country like the United States is still too high. The rates for African American women and babies is even higher. Some say that the close care and attention of midwives is sorely needed today to help resolve this problematic issue.

 
I wanted to pay tribute to this silent corps of women who formed such important places of honor and dignity in the African American communities. Thank you for your service.
A Virtuous Ruby was nominated for a Golden Heart this week, my second nomination. I want to thank all of you who kept the faith over my wild child story—a romance that dares to take place at a difficult time period in American history.

Shining the Light–my mother as historical

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Mom close upI suspect that my mother would not be pleased about being considered historical. She had only gotten reconciled to the idea that she was “one of the old people” as she called it, in 2012 at a cousin’s wedding. Still, as I reflected on her life during what would have been her seventy-first birthday this past Friday, I understood that we make history all of the time, even if we don’t consider the accomplishments very meaningful.

I’m doing research on polio for a 1950’s novella that I’m writing, tentatively titled, The Sweetest Chocolate Drop. My mother had polio as a child. She had the misfortune of contracting the disease in the peak year of 1952, mere months before Jonas Salk brought forward his vaccine. It always pains me to think of her in the hospital, stricken, when in the same building, in the very same city, people were working to find a cure. The extremely high incidence of polio in that year created a big public push for finding a cure.  Because my mother suffered, her younger siblings and cousins were saved from the terrible disease.

The “can do” mentality of polio survivors is well documented in David Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story.  Polio survivors adapted a kind of “red cape” mentality. My mother was no exception. People were often shocked to learn that she had a withered left arm. When she sewed clothes, she used her extraordinary sewing talent to construct her clothes and make her left arm look like her right arm. She was well known as an excellent cook and as a master gardener. Her talent with flowers and plants was such that her garden was featured regularly on garden tours in their neighborhood. I was married in that garden. She painted, crafted dolls and bears for those she loved and those who were less fortunate. She did all of this while she was the Vice President for the Campaign for the United Way of Allegheny County. Only one of a few female African American executives, she was making history, but she wouldn’t thank you for the recognition. “I just do what needs to be done,” she would say, and that was the end of it.

Her favorite spiritual was “This Little Light of Mine.” With her example, I’ve come to understand that if by “just doing what needs to be done,” and light is shed, that is historical. Over the next month, you may notice some changes to this blog, but it is all part of letting my light shine, as she tasked me to do.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

The Truth about Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth is one of those figures in history who looms very large, and people think they know her.  To be sure, she is one of the historic figures who had a better understanding of what the whole “PR” spiel was about in term of her legacy. For instance, the whole “Ain’t I a Woman” speech punctuated by Truth ripping at her clothes? Not true.  But why would Truth let reporters circulate a story get around about her?  And let the reporters change up her speech a bit?  Truth knew what good PR was all about.  As someone in the throws of thinking about marketing her first book, I don’t blame her one bit.

Truth was born Isabella Baumfree as a slave in New York.  Dutch, not English, was her first language.  As a powerful orator, she’s not going to bother to let people know that she spoke Dutch in a country that speaks primarily English.  Too smart for that.  And a slave?  In New York?  Well, yes.  New York had slavery.  Mintus Northup, Solomon Northup’s father was freed by the white Northrups. Mintus’s freedom allowed Solomon to be born free ten years later. They didn’t say anything about that 12 Years a Slave. 

Besides being a speaker for emancipation and for women’s suffrage, Truth is the first African American woman to win a court case over the illegal sale of her son.  What a remarkable accomplishment from an absolutely strong woman. She was amazing. We don’t remember her enough for all the right reasons.  Isabella Baumfree is a perfectly nice name, but she changed it to Sojourner Truth because, as she said, “I was to declare truth unto people.”  Oh yes.  Truth may have been an illiterate slave, but she could read her world enough to know what a good soundbite was all about.

The Super-Shero- Harriet Jacobs

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I know I’ve spoken about her before, but for Women’s History Month, I’m just going to speak about her again. Because she was amazing. Harriet Jacobs is best known for her slave narrative “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” She published the book in 1861, the story of her life as slave. The most remarkable portions of the book have her hiding out in a garret, nearby her former master’s home for nearly seven years, while he searched for her far and wide, unsuccessfully.

After her freedom was purchased, Jacobs sought to do good works.  She went to first to Washington, D.C. and Virginia to help runaway slaves. She raised money for schools to help runaway slaves and their children learn how to read and write.

After the war, Jacobs traveled further south with her daughter to see to the care, feeding and education of the enslaved on the Georgia coast in Savannah and its environs. The freed population of Savannah had swelled to three times the size of the normal population. Jacobs worked to make sure the freed slaves obtained land to work on, books and schooling for their children.

Jacobs worked hard for a new day with complete understanding having been formerly enslaved herself.  Activists like Jacobs and her daughter Louisa are wonderful examples of the desire of African Americans to help their formerly enslaved human family to realize themselves fully as human beings. They are examples, indeed.