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Stitched Stories: Former Halifax poet laureate shares family history via new exhibit

Shauntay Grant's family quilts to provide inspiration for new written work; exhibition launced Thursday at Dalhousie Art Gallery.

Halifax's former poet laureate and writer Shauntay Grant with some of the quilts being showcased as part of an exhibit running from Sept. 1 to Nov. 27 at the Dalhousie Art Gallery.

Zane Woodford/Metro

Halifax's former poet laureate and writer Shauntay Grant with some of the quilts being showcased as part of an exhibit running from Sept. 1 to Nov. 27 at the Dalhousie Art Gallery.

Scorch marks, pieces of coats, dresses and old sweaters are the fabric of an old family quilt that’s part of Shauntay Grant’s rich family history.

Her great-grandmother Annie (Cain) Simmonds’ winter quilt is just one of several on display at the Dalhousie Art Gallery as part of an exhibit that opened on Thursday.

Stitched Stories: The Family Quilts will provide the backdrop for Grant’s own poetic patchwork quilt.

Over the course of the exhibit, which runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 27, the local writer and poet will look to the selection of family quilts on display for her latest poetic inspiration.

Using brightly coloured notecards instead of fabric scraps, Grant will create her own vibrant “poetry” quilt on the empty gallery wall space.

“I see stories when I look at all of these quilts. This one survived a house fire and you can see the burn marks in the fabric. This was my great grandmother’s coat. You can still see the pocket tucked into the fabric there,” Grant said, pointing out a few of the characteristics of her great-grandmother’s winter quilt during a tour of the exhibit on Thursday.

“These are all bits of their (family members’) lives at a time that I didn’t know … My great-grandmother is no longer with us, but she is. These quilts she made with her hands. She passed when I was very young, but I feel close to her when I have these garments on.”

The exhibit was a collaborative effort with Grant’s grandmother, Rev. Alfreda Smith, who owns most of the quilts that are on display.

One of the family quilts on display as part of Grant's exhibition.

Zane Woodford/Metro

One of the family quilts on display as part of Grant's exhibition.

“My grandmother is a storyteller and she loves telling stories and talking about the olden days, and these quilts are just an extension of the history that she so very much wants to pass onto us always,” Grant explained.

A listening station will play Grant’s poem ‘Grandmother,’ inspired in part by the family quilts. Another poem written with the quilts in mind will be showcased on the wall.

“I’m a writer, that’s my main practice. When I look for ideas, when I look for inspiration, I go to home,” she said.

“When I say home, I mean all of the people and places that make up home. For me, these quilts are my writing props, my comfort blanket when I need it. It’s home.”

Two other exhibits will run alongside Stitched Stories.

Every quilt tells an important story, Grant explains.

Zane Woodford/Metro

Every quilt tells an important story, Grant explains.

Lisa Hirmer’s Dirt Piles focuses on landscape and displacement. Former Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis’ exhibit, The Dress pays homage to her years as the Queen’s representative and the role her garments played.

“I asked my grandmother why she kept these quilts all these years, quilts that are broken down, falling apart in places with burn marks, and she simply said it’s history,” Grant said.

“I think that sums it up right there. It’s history and it’s important.”

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