Sherry A. Byrd is my name. I was born in Freestone county,Texas, in 1951, in the town of Fairfield,which is approximately an hours' drive south of Dallas and approximately one hour west of of Waco. This town is the county seat and 1951 was its centennial year.
As a child I was introduced to quilt making via my maternal grandmother, Gladys Celia Durham-Henry. She came from a long lineage of African American quilt makers. That lineage stretches back as far as slavery times.
I did not learn to quilt by actually making a quilt of my own when young,but instead, for the first 18 years of my life I observed quietly as my grandmother created beautiful folk art pieces. Occasionally, she commandeered my assistance in tacking (tying strings) when adding a lining to a top to complete one of her amazing creations.
Quilt making at the time I was maturing, was on the decline, not only in Texas, but nationwide. No longer was it mandatory for young girls to learn the skill so as to be prepared to keep their families warm in wintertime, after marriage. Yet because of my close association with my grandmother, and her strict adherence to the traditional things her mother and grandmother had taught her as a child, she greatly affected and molded my viewpoints on life, quilting and many other things. Therefore quilt making continues to thrive in our family even to the present.
In September of 1969, I left home to seek higher education at Sam Houston State University, in Huntsville, Texas. I graduated in 1972 with a BA in History (my major) and Art (my minor). Little did I realize back then that over the next forty plus years, I would be putting both these areas to very good use in chronicling my own familys' history and legacy pertaining to America, Texas and Freestone County. The history of my ancestor Edward "Ned" Titus and his family , who were brought to this county in 1852 by the Simeon and Nancy Lake Family soon became one of my main focal points for family history research. Then came the Six generations of African American quilt makers and their quilts.
There was so much to learn. Things I had no clue existed, because as children ,we were not aware of this family history. We became aware of it only when researching genealogies became popular during the 1960's.. My cousin Wilbur T. Titus had a enormous effect on my desire to learn more. He was born in 1919 and is officially considered by family members to be the Titus Family Historian. He collects photos, and all kinds of information about our family and deposits it in his Myfamily.com website for viewing by family members and others who may be interested. Bill, as he is affectionately referred to by family members and friends, is 91 years old. Old enough to have been personally acquainted with family members who were slaves and ex slaves, as well as many of the members of the younger generation. He has compiled an extensive and detailed generation by generation family genealogy chart. He has also established the A. M. Hunter-Titus Foundation (named after his loving mother Amanda Marie Hunter-Titus) thru which his assists family members to know their ancestral roots. He freely shares this information . Thru him I learned a great deal about the quilt makers. His own mother was a wonderfully skilled quilt maker herself and later on in this site I will share some of her quilt images, as well as, quilts by many other Titus family quilters.
Descendants of Edward "Ned" Titus and Chlorie Dunbar-Titus, still populate Freestone county, but are also to be found located in almost every nook and cranny of our American geography. They are to be found in all walks of life too. There are doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, ambassadors, writers, folk artists, entertainers, athletes, and on and on. All this progressed from the desire of "Ned" to create a better life for his children and descendants. Soon after emancipation he and his sons bought 320 acres of land on which they established the Titus farms community. Here they built a church which served also as a school for the children to be educated. The cemetery and church are the only remaining land marks of this once thriving community.They are right next door to the Big Brown Coal Mining Plant located in Freestone county. "Ned" and Chlorie are buried in the cemetery along with other family members. Wilbur T.(Bill) Titus was the very last descendant to have lived at Titus Farms Community.
At the same time that the males were creating an educational legacy for the family, the females of the family were also,unknowingly, creating an artistic legacy, via the necessity to keep the family warm in the wintertime.
Apparently none of them ever ventured to dream that one day the quilts they created would become works of art hung on museum walls. The year my grandmother Gladys died,(1996) her quilts were included in and exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta ,Georgia, during the time that the Olympic Games were taking place. I'm sure she must have been mighty proud of that fact. That exhibit was called "No Two Alike" and the 11 quilts created by our family members, along with the others by non family members have been favorably compared to those oh so famous Gees Bend Quilts, from Alabama. (A note I'd like to insert here is that many of the pioneer citizens that settled Freestone county, Texas and brought their slaves here, originally came from Alabama. Make of it what you want, but it is a thought to chew on.) Anyway you can read about the comparisons at www.planetpatchwork.com. There is a "No Two Alike" exhibit review and a book review on Gees Bend Quilts. Enjoy!( These articles have been archived on the planetpatchwork website, but you can also access them by doing a "No Two Alike Exhibit search on your favorite browser.)
Both these Titus Family Legacies have had long lasting effects on Freestone county and our family as a whole. You may read more details in the next post, a story about me and my quilts.
Reversible Story quilt_
This story quilt chronicles the history of the Titus family from Africa to the present. you may read more details at Irving Sandlers Artist file at www.artistsspace.org on my webpage.