52” x 47”
Cotton canvas, cotton batting, cotton thread.
Machine quilted and hand quilted.
This quilt, titled “Snake Shoals on the Chattahoochee,” depicts a nine-square-mile spot on the Chattahoochee River, approximately 20 miles south of Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama. Using U.S. Geological Survey maps as references, as I have with a number of other quilts I’ve made, I tried to render the map as accurately as possible. “Accurate to the width of my needle,” I like to say.
This quilt was commissioned by the Chattahoochee River Conservancy and will be raffled in the late summer of 2018, profits going to support the health of the river, via the Chattahoochee River Conservancy.
When Henry Jackson of the Chattahoochee River Conservancy first approached me about making a quilt for the cause, my reaction was nothing but positive. I love the Chattahoochee and very much appreciate its importance to our region – historically, economically, recreationally ….
Henry did a good thing when he gave me plenty of time and complete freedom to make whatever I wanted to make so long as it had to do with the river. My first thought was to work with the flora and fauna of the river, maybe with a focus on the shoal lily. But I made a couple of drafts of shoal lilies and wasn’t thrilled with the results. I also thought of focusing on the mythology of the river – the stories of tie-snakes, of giant catfish underneath the dams, of lovers’ leaps … But eventually I decided that I might save that idea for another time. I was already in “map mode,” and it was to maps that I found myself gravitating.
Coincidentally, as I was mulling this new commission, a Facebook friend began posting photographs and stories about her canoe trip through “Snake Shoals.” Rachel Dobson, whose family is from Columbus but who herself lives in Tuscaloosa now, was doing genealogical research when she learned about her great, great, great, great grandfather James Boykin, who in the mid 1830s owned a plantation on the Chattahoochee at a place referenced on old maps as Snake Shoals.
Rachel’s photographs fascinated me. At about the same time, I had begun to look closely at the course of the Chattahoochee. (I am interested in the courses of rivers and have for the past few years focused heavily on rendering those courses in thread.) Well, the Chattahoochee does not follow a course quite as dramatic as, say, the Alabama River with its deep and continuous curves, or the Mississippi with its countless oxbows. The Chattahoochee begins in North Central Georgia, takes a southwesterly angle for a while, and then pretty much heads for the Gulf of Mexico (joining, of course, with the Flint at the Florida Line to become the Apalachicola). Now, that description is a “zoom out” view. When you zoom in a little closer, though, you’ll see the most dramatic double curve in the entire course of the Chattahoochee -- at Snake Shoals.
I began to look much closer at Snake Shoals and realized the special historical significance of the area. Until The Removal in 1836, the region had been occupied by Native Americans – Muscogee Creek, Hitchitee, Yuchi. In the 1600s this region had comprised the northernmost reaches of Spanish Florida, and in 1689 the Spanish had built a fort here on the river. Then there was James Boykin’s plantation. At some point there had been a ferry across the river somewhere along this stretch. In 1928 the Holy Trinity Catholic Mission was founded within this region. You can read more about the historical significance of the region on Rachel's blog.
So Snake Shoals it was. My decision was made, and I set to work.
The quilt is made of cotton canvas and features both machine quilting and hand quilting. The contour lines are true contour lines, derived from U.S. Geological Survey maps. The red lines indicate 50-foot differences in elevation; the smaller dark brown lines indicate 10-foot differences. The blue threads indicate creeks and marshes. While this region is primarily rural, a few roads do traverse it. I opted to omit the roads and focus on the natural landscape. The only “human element” I have included is the hand-quilted suggestions of plowed furrows in the big flat regions.
I’d like to thank Henry Jackson and Sanna Moravek, Executive Director and Programs Director of the Chattahoochee River Conservancy, for the opportunity to make and present this quilt. Thanks also to Rachel Dobson for the inspiration, the information, and new friendship. And thanks to Fred Fussell for encouragement and for historical information.