Grandma Bella – Quilting/Assemblage
Grandma Bella was a little more of an unknown to me when I undertook this series for the TREX exhibition. Although Grandma and Grandpa Mather were frequent visitors, especially for Sunday evening supper, they did not play as large a roll in my life as Granny Alice. As youngsters, we stayed with these grandparents for short periods during the summers and it was during these stays that I was able to take a few swimming lessons at the Perth swimming pool and actually take proficiency tests that allowed me to collect swimming badges! But, although I have a few items that she passed on to me via her annual birthday treasure box – items often collected at auction sales that she loved to attend – it was not until later that I came to know more about this amazing woman.
Bella Ashby was born in a log cabin in the rocky hills of Lanark County near Fallbrook and as the eldest daughter, left school to help care for younger children. She had a grade 3 education obtained via a two mile walk to the nearest school and began her working life as a mother’s assistant to the Anderson family at the age of 12. Saving her money during her years with this family allowed her, at the age of 14, to move to Perth where she apprenticed with Mrs. Lyons to gain sewing skills. This allowed her to become an itinerant seamstress, creating clothing for men, women and children for a number of families along the Scotch Line near Perth. In 1916 she married John Cumming Mather of Middleville, a stationary engineer who had travelled and work in the western provinces since his teen years. On his marriage, Grandpa settled in Lanark County, ON and eventually bought a farm near Balderson where my mother was raised.
Her Diaries Provide Insight into her Life
Grandma kept diaries and we have insight into her farm years via her recordings but it was later, in Perth, after Grandpa retired from farming that my parents married and my memories begin.
I remember heavy woolen quilts on our beds during the winter months that I later discovered had been created from Grandma’s scraps from her years as a seamstress. I remember long walks about town with this women who had a twisted ankle and a limp and often used a cane. I remember visits to a local church for the sunday evening songfest. But at the same time, I remember Grandpa making breakfast, tying my shoes and generally keeping the household going. It was only in the last couple of years I discovered that, when my mother and her youngest brother were still young children, Grandma had a large barn hayfork pierce her skull and although she lived, treatment and the after effects of this injury had left their mark on her life. It was only after her death that her husband and family learned that she had her own bank account and investments from the years she had worked as a seamstress – a truly independant woman for the time!
Creating this Artwork
When my Mother began to clear items that she had saved, in preparation for moving into an apartment, she brought me some boxes of exquisite lace collars and trims, lace gloves and linens that she had acquired when Grandma Bella passed away. In my remembrance of this woman I chose to use some of them and a taffeta similar to that she would have sewn with, hat pin and brooches that I know belonged to her, buttons from her collection and a pickle fork that she received as a wedding present. The lace glove is part of a pair I received as a birthday present and wore with my church clothes for several years and the woollen sampler represents the many woollen quilts she made from suiting material to keep family members warm on frosty winter nights in draughty farm houses. The wooden motto plaque, one I have kept with me since I was twelve, is from a birthday box. The circular piece with a handle I called a small purse for many years but I have recently learned was a ‘hair catcher’ to contain the hair removed from a hair brush after use – remember we were always told to make a 100 strokes a day for glossy hair!