Ol’ Man’s Cotton
“Ol’ Man’s Cotton” (2020) from the quilt exhibition: “Let The Tablecloth Speak: The Embedded DNA Storytelling in Heirloom Linens“. This is from a series of 13 quilts made from a single heirloom, cutwork tablecloth. The tablecloth is cut into sections where family members sat and are remembered in stories, tales, lore and other remembrances, such as cigarette burns or coffee spills. “Ol’ Man’s Cotton” is formed from the edge/end/head of the table and is paired with a calico strip similar to remembered piece of clothing he wore.
24in x 59in
Cotton, Twill, thread, raffia, Wood, Cut work tablecloth, calico and yarn
- The image is from a 1940 era photograph of a Cotton Picker waiting to chosen for a day’s labor by a photographer from the Farm Security Administration. He did not ask or record his name as part of his work photographing a yard scene of about forty workers with their body length bags and hope. This photo was taken in Pulaski County, Arkansas where my family lived during the same time.
- I am using a technique to print this image onto a cotton bag with a raw edge. The red around the figure indicates the old man’s anger at being the subject of the photographer and the coming day’s work at his age. He is sitting on the corner of the house’s porch as he awaits the decision and a day’s wages based on the number of times he can fill that long bag.
- Each of the quilted pieces in this series has a narrative/poem that gives the viewer an insight into what was said of or told about for the person being remembered. For “Ol’ Man’s Cotton” the narrative is remembering the Old Man’s speech about how his cotton picking paid for and paved the way for other generations to leave and prosper. Regardless of what the later generations thought of the stereotypical labor, it served as a forced pathway that was managed and blessed to a family’s benefit.
- The edge of the piece repeats a series of blue ovals which mirror another element in the piece and represents a series of recognized blessings. In this case those blessings have accumulated into the sending off of a family member to a different place of prosperity or least the opportunity to prosper.
- Big wood buttons are used here to represent those carved by the elders to fasten their clothing. Store bought fasteners were not even a consideration for a certain era of elders who worked the fields. They used ropes and wood pegs as the need arose.
The haphazard threadpainting, badges and feelers represent a lifetime of being on edge and looking out for the temperamental existence of Black Southern life. Sharecropping and Cotton Picking were hard work made more difficult by the shortchanging at the hands of those in charge. The red yarn stringers signify dangers, seen and unseen, but expected. The blue tops signify a hope for some stability regardless. Looking closely you can see that a single blue threaded band is amidst it all. That band is a series of recognized blessings.
The yellow threadpainting, badges and feelers represent a lifetime of hope and dreaming for better days. They are at the bottom of the image to represent embedded or planted dreams. Looking closely you can see that a few of those hopes have already been loosed or broken away from the yellow thread “seeds”.
2 thoughts on “Ol Mans Cotton In Depth”
I love this. The heart of it, the depths it takes you to ,the “seeing and feeling “Ol man Cotton’s life and hopes. The power of the hope is palpable. This is beautiful Jas. It makes you transition back into time empathically living it.Beautiful!!!💝💝💝
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Thank you for your insight and appreciation