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Helen McCloud’s quilts, along with those of her mother Della Mae Bridges, are pieced in an idiom not learned in Gee's Bend, yet they still show distinct similarities with the local tradition. Like many other Gee's Bend quiltmakers, they have made "Lazy Gals"; the two have also done block quilts in vivid colors with irregular geometries and multiple patterns. Indeed, apart from a tendency to tie the layers of their quilts together instead of stitching them and a partiality to two-sided compositions—both phenomena are known in Gee's Bend but are more prevalent than usual in the work of Helen McCloud and her mother—the two women might well have learned their art locally. Their textiles suggest the continuities between the quilting communities of Gee's Bend and the larger visual culture of Wilcox County and the Black Belt more generally.

"I was born down in Clifton, out from Annemanie. My mother was Della Mae Bridges. We worked in the fields, raised cotton and stuff. Kind of rough. My daddy was a big farmer—cotton, corn, rice, peanuts, squashes, cucumbers, beans, oats. And, Lord, we had to get out there and pick them. Jesus, I hated that, but if you didn’t, you get tore up. Watermelons, too. Two hundred pounds of cotton wasn’t nothing for me to pick. My daddy was so mean to us.

"Had to walk to school, to a little old rural school, had about fourteen, fifteen children all together in one room. It used to be a little bitty old church; they put it to a school. Kind of rough. Heat by wood. Wasn’t no good house or school or church back at that time. Just old plank buildings.

"I first married Cleveland Davenport. I was around sixteen years old. We had three children. He stayed sick all the time, never was able to provide for me and the children. We stayed together about four years, and I left and went back to my mama. I met Almos McCloud over at the café in Camden and we started talking, and he asked me was I married. I said I been married but wasn’t now, and I reckon I don’t want nary ’nother husband ’cause you can’t find a good one these days. He say, “You talkin’ to a good one right now.” He say, “I’m going to leave you my address and you can think about it.” I thought about it two weeks, and I written him a letter, say, “I’ll go on and get married.” He come over to my mama, talk to her. She say, “It’s okay with me. Helen need somebody help her take care of her children.” So we went to the courthouse and got married.

"We went back to my mama house in a little old black Chevrolet car, and picked up the children, and he brought us over here to his home in Gee’s Bend. This area here called "White’s." I half-way helped my husband farm when I wasn’t taking care of the children. We growed all kinds of stuff—cotton and corn, and potatoes, tomatoes, greens, onions, okra, stuff like that. We raised cucumbers, carry them down there to Roman Pettway to grade them and take to the factory. And we raised a bunch of cows. I lived with Almos for nineteen years, had six children, until lung cancer got him, 1979.

"Mama the one show me to make quilts. When I was living there with her before I married Almos, she show me how to get the frame together, whip the cotton. She get a big needle, go around, whip it around the frame, put the cotton down. She show me how to cut the blocks, cut the strips.

"She did a lot of quilts. I can remember way back yonder when I was ten or eleven, something like that, helping her beat out the cotton, pad the quilts. When I was coming in about twelve or thirteen, she tell me to get me a chair and start to sew me a part of a quilt, and she show me how to do a row of stitches. I didn’t make one myself. I was twenty, back with my mama, I pieced it and quilted it myself, my work. I had to prove to my mama I could do it. I took that quilt to my marriage with Almos. Then I made me one out of overalls and some overall material my sister give me—that was when I moved here in ’64. After that, I went to tacking them. It’s a quicker way and a better way. My sister Annie Pearl worked at a sewing factory down in Mobile, and she give me a lot of old cloth scraps and old clothes and things, so I didn’t want to see them go to waste, so I went and made quilts out of them. We didn’t have no blankets then, so I had to keep making them things. I had to run six beds, children sleep two in a bed back then, sometime need four and five quilts on a bed, according to the weather.

"I’m sixty-two now and I get around fine. I think I’m doing great. It’s better now than it’s ever been. I’ve been confined all my life, taking care of sick folks and children, and now I’m free of that. I do a lot of solo singing in the churches around here. I get a lot of calls. Peoples call me from the different churches to sing spirituals. I don’t get in no choir. My church want to put me in it but I prefer to sing alone. I got me a raggly old piano back there and I’m learning to play it. I’m looking forward to my music and my life."

Details

  • Title: "Bars," tied with yarn
  • Creator: Helen McCloud
  • Creator Lifespan: b. 1938
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Date Created: c. 1980
  • Location Created: Alberta, Alabama
  • Physical Dimensions: 85 x 81 in. (215.9 x 205.7 cm)
  • Subject Keywords: Gee's Bend, Black art, African American art
  • Type: Quilt
  • Rights: © Helen McCloud / Photo: Stephen Pitkin, Pitkin Studio
  • External Link: https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/helen-mccloud
  • Medium: Cotton blends, cotton, nylon

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