At the Festival - Bertha Bachus, a Celebration, a Memorial
The youngest girl in her family, she, her sisters, and Mother made quilts and sewed for the family. Although a purely practical exercise - keeping the family warm during north Mississippi’s cold damp winters, her skill was recognized. While this girl on a small family farm was sewing for utility, her art was acknowledged, her fine quality stitching praised. As a young woman, she became known throughout DeSoto County, as a seamstress on such varied projects as clothing, car/truck seat covers, and quilts.
Practical utility quilts led her to display at the early Memphis Music and Heritage Festivals, but Judy Peiser, the Festival, and Center for Southern Folklore stirred her to accomplish so much more. For the first time in her life this accomplished seamstress and quilt maker produced art for art’s sake. Her quilts taught and inspired. One piece, still hanging in the Center, taught visitors and residents alike that black and white sharecroppers and farmers picked cotton side by side, working together. They worked together and separately under the same poor conditions, for the same inadequate pay or share of their farms’ profits, and for the same reason - family survival. Another piece exhibits a proud Mother showing off her family, with a piece of each child’s personality sewn into the fabric of the quilt. Her husband is shown prone at the bottom of the quilt. He had passed away, asleep awaiting an eternal awakening. The third shows a geometric pattern, perfectly balanced, that quality stitching, high art, on display.
For decades, the Center and the Heritage Festival gave a voice to this talented artist, a stage where she performed and showed others how to perform the practical and beautiful craft of quilting. In return, this gentle lady became a centerpiece of the festival. The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival became a family gathering for her, her daughters joining her from the early festivals on, enjoying the company and the celebration. In later years they aided her, with daughters like Christine Allen traveling from Jackson Mississippi to make a huge contribution to the Festival by supporting their matriarch-artist. In her later years, this contribution was essential - her huge presence at the festival would not have been possible otherwise.
Only failing health stopped her from making quilts. First it was the arthritis, then the diabetes-caused neuropathy, and finally, dementia. Those girl’s skilled hands and that great artist’s mind had gone. All too soon, in May of 2012, the gentle lady, farmer’s daughter, and accomplished quilter left us. She is gone, but like all great artists, we have beautiful remnants of her being and inspiring stories to pass on. I hope generations will view Bertha Bachus’ masterpieces at The Center for Southern Folklore and The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival.