My inspiration to paint on a quilted background came from my grandmother, Rosella Fraser, Sr., also known as Mommay. She had 15 children and raised 17 in the community of North Preston, NS. During the 1950s and 60s, when all her children were being born, my family, like most in the community, lived in poverty. During this time, the majority of women in Black communities, my grandmother included, used whatever they had to provide warmth for their children. My mother, Rosella Fraser, would tell me stories of how she and her siblings would layer the quilts on each other and snuggle closely together in the winter months to stay warm.
AT TOP Letitia Fraser’s paintings are centred around her experiences as an African Nova Scotian woman growing up in the province’s Black communities. Here she stands in front of a painting she did of her mother, Rosella Fraser. Music and faith are a large part of the community of North Preston and part of the story that she wanted to tell in this piece, created using collage and photo transfer.
PHOTO BY Robert Short
Mommay: Letitia’s work features oil paintings of family members on fabric canvases reminiscent of the quilts that her grandmother, Rosella “Mommay” Fraser, Sr., used to make. Oil on quilt.
My grandmother made several quilts in her time and passed them down to her children, who will then pass them down to their children. Quilting is a part of my heritage, which is why I paint on top of them – I love taking an older tradition and bringing new life to it while at the same time showing respect to where I came from. It is my way of keeping the craft alive in my community.
Mommay had to be very resourceful so her quilts were made with used fabrics. Similarly, I utilize used fabrics in my paintings. My process includes finding a photograph, or taking one, to be used as my inspiration – one that connects with my community but is also something that non-Blacks can relate to. It’s important to realize we all – Blacks and non-Blacks – have shared experiences; we aren’t as different as some might think. It’s also important for me to connect with my people directly and for them to see themselves in a positive, more accurate light.
From there, I design the quilt around the image. I fully render the skin of my characters but use patterned fabrics to shine through a thin coat of paint for
their clothes, making certain that the fabric isn’t hidden.
A photograph of cousins taken at Letitia’s family homestead inspired Carrying On. It is an ode to her childhood and her grandparents’ land, where they were free to be silly and play in nature, the colours of which are reflected in the palette. The North Star patches are a nod to North Preston. Oil on quilt.
I find the most inspiration in my grandmother’s quilting style as well as that of other women from the community. I am also greatly inspired by the Gee’s Bend Quilters who hail from a small, remote community in Alabama in the United States. Seeing their hand in the work, their history, and the community effort put into their quilts motivates me more than any modern quilt could. There is a deeper connection with hand sewn quilts. As a Black woman, this speaks directly to my past. They speak to the resiliency of my ancestors.
So often people make negative assumptions about African Nova Scotians. My hope is to showcase my community through my work, and, through my lens, help the wider world see who we really are. It is important for the people of my community to see themselves as well.
Blue Magic portrays Letitia’s Aunt Bolivia, a quilter, braiding her daughter’s hair. Swatches of used fabric help create the quilt background. Oil on quilt.
The figure of Lillian Downey in her blue suit and white lace lapels, set against a traditional star quilt block, exudes power and strength. Virtuous Woman; oil on canvas, 48″ x 54″.
Letitia Fraser comes from a long line of artists that includes her uncle and mother. A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, she is a recipient of the Nova Scotia Arts Endowment Fund Scholarship and the 2018 RBC Emerging Artist Award. Find out more about her innovative work at letitiafraser.com.