Making has always been in my life even if I didn’t always know that at the time. Recently LoveCrafts asked bloggers to tackle this seemingly simple question. Why do you make? It seemes like the perfect opportunity for me to open up a little more and tell you about my own crafting journey. My life can be mapped out in a series of handmade objects. Not all of them were made by myself. But they all formed who I am in one way or another. A quilt made for the underground railroad, a wedding gift from a stranger, a lumpy sweater, hand-dyed hanks, and crochet mandalas. One having little to do with the other except for the fact that they all made me the maker that I am today.
I’m a Brunson. That means many things. For the purpose of this story though, it means that I grew up in the halls of the African American Historical Society Museum in Jersey City. My grandfather ran it while he was alive and my father runs it now. An archive of African and African American artifacts. I grew up knowing what slave shackles felt like and tapping on drums that were older than my oldest living relative. But even when I was too young to know what they meant my favorite part of the collection was the quilts. I grew up knowing the power that a handmade item can possess, that an object can hold the maker’s pain, hope, and resilience in each stitch.
In the summer my dad would pick my sister and me up from camp and much to our dismay we would drive over to the museum. When we got there my dad would pull out a key ring that held what looked like hundreds of keys, but what was probably only thirty or fifty. He would shuffle through them and open up each door to the museum. Finding exactly the right label-less keys on the very first try. He would go off to the back office and my sister and I were free to roam the halls. Almost immediately I would find my way to my quilts. The main room of the museum was filled with quilts, many of which were used by the underground railroad. Draped over roofs to warn, invite, and spread information. Their symbols became ingrained in my memory. I would sit in the room and sneakily touch them even though I knew that I wasn’t supposed to. I would run my fingers over the stitches and try to imagine the stories that they held. They loomed large over my childhood and probably had a greater impact over me than I will ever know.