My obsession with rivers never fails to land me in interesting situations.
Those of you who attended Trees Columbus' hosting of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival over the weekend were given the first look at the product of a truly outstanding experience.
Perusing Instagram, a photo of a pillow mapping out all of Georgia's rivers caught my attention and started an exploration into the work of Cathy Fussell that led to the commission of a quilt depicting a section of the Chattahoochee River.
Cathy's bio on her website describes her as a quilter of 50 years experience who maintains a studio in Columbus, GA where she produces quilts by hand and with the assistance of sewing machines. Retired from a 28 year career in education (literature and composition), Cathy has devoted herself to her artwork full time for the past 6 years. Perhaps most notably, Cathy was commissioned a few years ago to create a piece for then-First Lady Michelle Obama.
The studio Cathy shares with her husband Fred, an accomplished artist in his own mediums, is housed in one of Columbus' old textile mills and directly reflects the Fussell's experience in curating exhibits. Every surface features the original work of artists local and abroad, famous and unknown. A portrait of Fred with angel's wings and a halo was given as a gift from Seale-based folk artist Butch Anthony who credits Fred with his success and fame.
Careful placement appears in even the book shelves lining the hallway and the titles range from Southern folk-lore to edible mushrooms found in the North Georgia mountains. As an obsessive bibliophile and aesthete, the Fussell's studio is to me a haven, an oasis of eccentricity arranged in a manner appearing both simultaneously random and deliberate. If I was to attempt to arrange such a variety of objects in a small space it would come across as cluttered but the Fussells achieve purpose and creativity in a manner that appears effortless.
Overshadowing all other works in the studio are Cathy's quilts. The moment I saw them I knew I may have come for a pillow, but it was a quilt with which I would be leaving. We discussed ideas for the commission and Cathy was eager to hear our contributions but in the end, I felt any influence I had over the piece would detract from it's originality and this quilt is, after all, not for me.
Following Cathy through the process of constructing this quilt was an enlightening experience. The idea of taking a topographic square and expanding it to the size of a quilt to show every single detail was entirely Cathy's. The area shown on the quilt is a 9 square mile region about 20 miles south of Columbus known as Snake Shoals. This particular area appealed to Cathy because of the dramatic double bend in the river's course, a friend's family history, and the fascinating historical significance of the area. Her and Fred's research found this area was inhabited by the Spanish in the late 1600's, a plantation in the 1800's, a ferry helped travelers cross the river at some point on this stretch, and in 1928 the Holy Trinity Catholic Mission was founded here.
Cathy's description of the quilt's construction is as follows:
"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 indicated 100-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."
As mentioned above, this quilt is not for me. It was commissioned for you. It is with great hesitancy that I follow through on my plans. If I had the financial ability to reimburse Chattahoochee River Conservancy for the organization's investment, I don't know I that I could resist the temptation for this beautiful work of art to hang above my desk in my home office where I could break from working into the night to reflect on what a great experience this has been, both the creation of the quilt and the last 18 months at the helm of this organization.
Cathy's outstanding work of art will be the sole focus of a raffle in September, held at our 8th Anniversary Dinner event on September 14th. We will enjoy a Chattahoochee-inspired dinner prepared by Chef Austin Scott, beer and wine from B&B Beverage and Omaha Brewing, and there will be a separate drawing for door prizes.
Ticket sales to the dinner are open now. The event is posted on our Facebook page with links. Raffle tickets will be available for purchase August 16. The funds raised from the dinner and the raffle will support our conservation work in the Chattahoochee River and tributaries. Please join us for this fun, casual evening and celebrate the Chattahoochee River, friends, and the power of art.
The title of this post is derived from a quote by Cathy Fussell in which she promises her quilted maps are accurate within the width of her needle.
Cathy's website is hyperlinked above and here.
To see the quilt in person, stay tuned, we will be displaying it throughout the community and will notify of its location via social media.
My note to Cathy: I hope my words and photos do justice to your creation. Thank you for your work and dedication. It has been an honor.
- Henry Jackson