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Writer,Quilt maker,Folkartist, from Freestone County, Tx.


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Tuesday, June 22, 2010


In 1852 a planter by the name of Simeon Lake, his wife Nancy, and their children migrated to Freestone county, Texas from South Carolina, via Arkansas, in four wagons, pulled by 10 oxen. They brought with them, five slaves, Edward "Ned" Titus, his wife Chlorie (Dunbar) Titus and their children. The male slaves helped with the outside work and the females did all the cooking and housework. The household chores consisted of cleaning, washing , ironing, sewing, cooking,and quilt making, etc.

Among Edward "Ned" and Chlorie's eleven children was born a son, named Walter, in 1856. When Walter matured, he took as wife, Miss Patsie Reddick. They were the parents of one daughter, Ellen Anna Titus, born in 1884.

Patsie was considered to be a good housekeeper, cook and mother. She was talented at quilt making. She had all the skills a man was taught to look for in a woman. She taught all these skills  to her daughter, Ellen Anna, at a very early age. Ellen Anna wed at the age of 15 to Willie Anderson Durham. They had eleven offspring of which four were daughters. Ellen Anna taught her daughters the same skills her mother had passed on to her. She started their training as early as eight years old; her youngest daughter Katie Mae Tatum, is quoted as saying. Katie Mae was born in 1917 and her mother died when she was around 12 years old.

With these two African American women began a legacy of African American M-provisational Folk art Quilt making that has survived the rigors of time through five, and going on six generations. The Titus family lineage has culminated into the creation of a series of reversible family story quilts which Patsie's great, great granddaughter, Sherry A. Byrd works on passionately, in her spare time.

Sherry was born and raised in Fairfield, Texas, Freestone county in 1951, the centennial year of the town. The place where she was born is not many miles from Ward's Prairie and Brown's Creek, areas in which Edward "Ned" and his family were settled. She is the mother of eight children and her parents are Connie and Laverne (Henry) Brackens. Laverne is the great granddaughter of Patsie (Reddick)Titus and Walter Titus. Laverne's mother, Gladys (Durham) Henry is Patsie's granddaughter.

In the l950's when Sherry was growing up, she had plenty of exposure to quilt making as her grandmother, Gladys, served as Nanny for about 20 of her own grandchildren, while their mothers worked away from home on secular jobs. "Big Mama", as all called her, had plenty of chores to keep these energetic hands busy and active at all times. One of these tasks was "tacking' quilts. Big Mama sewed, pieced and quilted five days per week. Many times Sherry was drafted for this monotonous chore. Probably because as a young girl she could not resist the enticing sounds made by her grandmother's Singer sewing machine. Nor could she resist the beautiful colorful cloth patches and the erratic designs of  her grandmother's "throw together" quilts. She loved watching the process of completing a quilt happen and wished she could make something pretty too. But the string tying was boring and playing outside making mud cakes with Big Mama's real chicken eggs was far more exciting. Maybe one day when she grew up she would make a quilt but not now. On the other hand, Sherry did like to  make doll clothes  and occasionally Big Mama would give her cloth scraps , a needle, and some thread to do so. Once, she even let her try out out her sewing machine.

May l969, Sherry graduated from High School. In the fall, she entered Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Her twelfth grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Pattie Jones, believed she had the possible making of an artist and helped secure a small scholarship and a part time job to help  pay her way through school. In l972, Sherry graduated with a BA in History and  Art.

While attending Sam Houston State University, Sherry met Curtis Byrd, Sr., her future husband. They were married in 1973. Now her life became extremely hectic with child bearing, child rearing, religious activities, and assisting her husband in his secular self employment of recycling. There was still  no time for quilt making.

l984 brought a dramatic change to Sherry's life. Her seventh child, a son, was stillborn. To cope with the grief and depression, Sherry turned to quilt making. She started with a cribsized quilt and then made several more. She distributed these to friends who had given birth. Her confidence was elevated by the success of these smaller projects so she felt ready to tackle a full-sized quilt. Her first one ever. Before she could finish it, her husband, Curtis claimed it as his own and therefore the quilt was named "Dad's Quilt". It still adorns the couple's bed every winter.

1986--Sherry came across an ad in a supermarket tabloid paper that simply stated, "I buy quilts, old and new." She called the phone number listed and made acquaintance with Mr. Eli Leon, a collector and scholar who was researching African American quilts. This relationship directed her quilt making on a journey that has taken many twists and turns. The journey has been and still is a wonderful one.

Sherry introduced Eli to her mother and grandmother. He traveled to Texas and purchased quilts and tops from both of them. He also purchased tops from Sherry's daughter, Bara. These quilts were exhibited as a group at the High Museum  in Atlanta, GA___ in the exhibit, "No Two Alike", 1996-97.

The success of these exhibits stirred in Sherry the desire to know why so many people were becoming interested in throw together quilts. So she began a research of the topic that has led to the discovery of a wonderful and fantastic family legacy of quiltmaking.

During this research period, other amazing events occurred which has added to the richness of the experience. In 1997, British Airways commissioned fifty ethnic artworks from around the world to have painted and displayed on their over 300+ Boeing jet tail fins. They wanted to create a new image for themselves. Sherry's quilt, "Champagne" was chosen as one of those artworks. Her quilt became a part of British Airway's" Sky high Gallery."

Next,in 1998, Texas Folk life Resources gallery director, Pat Jasper, contacted Sherry and her mother. She curated the exhibit "Quilts of Color"Three generations in an Afro-Texan Family". This exhibit included quilts created by Sherry's( grandmother), Glady's Henry, (her great aunt), Katie Mae Tatum,( her mother), Laverne Brackens and Sherry. It included percision made as well as M-privosational  quilts. The Titus family speaks two quilt making languages fluently. Also several Titus family apprentices took part in a workshop that was a part of the exhibit. They were Sarah E. Byrd, Nikki Brackens, Tysha Brackens and Cephas Byrd.

At the "Quilts of Color" workshop, September 18, l999, Sherry presented to the public for the first time ever the story quilt "Homegrown/Handmade/Passed-On Family ." This was a brainchild that culminated from her previous research into the family's history. She had worked on it progressively for close to three years and it still had not been completed. Homegrown story quilt Chronicles the background of the Titus family, basically from around 1852-2000. The crowd loved it even though it was still incomplete.

The quilt had such a great impact that, Suzanne Seriff, a guest curator attending the workshop for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, invited Sherry to exhibit the quilt at the new opening of the state museum for their inaugural exhibit titled "It Ain't Braggin' If It's True". By the time of the inaugural opening, Sherry had managed to bring the story quilt to a relative conclusion.

The crowds loved it once again as the following quotes reveal:

July 2,2001__"...I cannot tell you how much the visitors to the museum have raved over your quilt. So many stop, and look, and study it, and try to read the script and tease the stories out of the images! It is really something else!..."
Suzanne Seriff, Guest Curator
"It Ain't Braggin If It's True"
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
Austin, Texas

December, 2001__Dear, Mrs Byrd,...The exhibit has been a great success...thanks to lenders such as yourself sharing artifacts with a wider audience...

January, 2002__ ...We are pleased to have had your wonderful quilt in our exhibit "It Ain't Braggin' If It's True"...thank you for your participation in our exhibit. Over 500,000 visitors have come to see the museum since we opened last April!

Meredith Sutton
Museum Registrar
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

The greatest honor resulting from the Bob Bullock Museum experience was the fact that President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, Mrs. Jan Bullock, Governor Rick Perry, former Texas governors Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, and Bill Clements along with a crowd of 500 Texas state government officials and their families were among the over 500,000 visitors who had the opportunity to view "Homegrown" at the inaugural opening  of the State Museum. African American "Throw Together" M-provisational quilts have come a long way in the history making process...from covering slave beds to works of Art on Museum walls! It is truly amazing and a wonder to behold.

The joy experienced by the family members is unbridled. What will happen next in this unique journey? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Sherry continues to create. For 20 years, since l986, she has been collecting quilt blocks from family quilt makers to create a reversible sampler and story quilt commemorating the long held tradition of passing on sewing skills and quilt making skills in the Titus family. This reversible quilt is the second one in a series of reversible story quilts that the artist plans to construct based on the history of Freestone county and her family's life story. The Series holds the title of "Homegrown "N" Freestone".

On July 26, 2007, Sherry Byrd was invited to give a "High Noon Talk" at the Bob Bullock, Texas State History Museum to talk about her second story quilt "Jazz With a Needle and Thread," who's composition included elements pieced by four generations of African American quilters found in her family's lineage. She also related and shared tales of her family's unique quilt making tradition and why it is worthy of its international acclaim. With their relaxed unconventional mode of piecing, bold and vibrantly electric colors, and asymmetrical designs, these quilts embody the flavor of Texas Two-Stitching M-privisational Pride. They also uncover the history of a Lone Star State's family quilt making Legacy. Sherry's work "Jazz With A Needle and Thread" was on exhibit in the Pride Section of the special 5-year anniversary exhibit "It (Still) Ain't Braggin if It's True," which explored the qualities of Texas Vision, Friendship, Perseverance, Pride, Showmanship, and Swagger through One-of-a-kind objects and the stories they tell.

The "High Noon Talk" was a wonderful experience and success...with an audience of 70+ (including adults and children) fully involved as they o-o-o-ohed and a-a-a-ahed over the M-provisational Masterpieces flashed & displayed before them. The Tell & Show session was declared by the museum staff to be the Best-of-the-series of High Noon Talks given over the summer of 2006, at the museum, as the audience was so highly enthusiastic, captivated and engaged.

Now we move on. "Homegrown" has made its permanent mark on Texas Floklore History, "Jazz With A Needle &Thread has captivated and dazzled its audience.. so what will happen as Sherry plows into developing the third story quilt in her series called "LoneStar Braggin' Rights: It's A Texas Thang!
It is hard to tell...but hopefully it will all be just as exciting and history making as the previous two story quilts have been.

Bye for now...see you in the next post.
Sherry Ann


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