When you first meet Lucy Hubbard, the light that comes from her eyes amazes you. It is a bright, warm, intense and vivid light reflecting the soul of a remarkable woman.
I will always remember the day I met Lucy Hubbard. It was a dull, rainy day announcing fall, and even the windshield wipers could not remove the little orange leaves, stuck by the heavy raindrops. A hint of nostalgia was floating over the stripes of that day. Ms Nickki (Nicole Whitlock) was driving aunt Tricia’s truck, and we all arrived on time on Hill Street, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Immediately, the light came back, breathing into this flat day and bringing out all its grandeur. During this afternoon, Lucy–also known as Big Ma, name given by Nickki, when she was a child–took out of the closets, her many quilts, helped by her daughter and granddaughter. In one of the quilts that were in display, we found a needle and thread; some work had still to be finished! Smiling at us, Big Ma said she would do it at once. Then she opened her memories to me.
“My name is Lucy Hubbard and I was born in 1927, the 12th of February, in Marshall County, but I don’t know exactly where. I had a mother; a woman birthed me in the world and gave me away when I was a baby.
When mama and papa would be in the fields, I was cooking dinner for them. I was so small, I was so short, I had to stand up on a chair, and I could hardly pick up the pan and the pots. I was doing everything in the house. So when mama and papa would be going in the fields, when they get back, everything was cooked and washed. My dad’s clothes were so big; I couldn’t wring them but dragged them to the fencing, standing up on a little log to reach it.
I remember that first job I did in the fields, not far from Holly Springs; I was a very young child. My pay was 25 cents a week. It wasn’t much money but it was good though, for me. I would chop and pick cotton. Twenty-five cents a week. That was no money. I didn’t like to go to the fields. You don’t know what the feeling is to pick cotton, bless your heart you don’t. You are so lucky.
My mama was quilting at home and just seeing her sew, patching and piecing quilts and things –seeing how she would do it, I said to myself, “I can do the same thing”. And so, on and on I just learnt a little more and little more. And one day I said I was going to make a quilt. I did it, I made a quilt. So from that quilt to another quilt, I just kept on and on. Somehow it was just easy for me to catch on, seeing somebody doing this kind of work.
I would sit up all night long, quilting. I didn’t want to go to bed cause I loved to quilt and I loved to piece quilts; I can’t do it now cause I can’t see how to thread the needle. When I put a quilt in, a quilt would be in, not even in three days. When I first started I wasn’t able to buy this material. With two or three pairs of pants, two or three shirts you could do some good quilts. You would keep the nice pieces of your old clothes.
I did love the quilting. It would just make me feel different, thinking about what I have did and what I can do. If you want something done, you got to do it yourself and you know it is done. I love to do things and stand back looking at it and thinking about what I have did. And also, when you sit down and make a quilt you want to show it to the people and say, look at what I have done, and surprise them. You like to show your good work off”.
Speaking more and more with Lucy, I understood that making quilts would bring her inner silence, peace, meditation, reflection and serenity; that using these multiple coloured fabrics and threads, was such an artistic work, like a painter playing with his palette.
I understood that all along this body of work, Lucy stitched with her head, her heart and her hands, the many stories of her life. Stories intertwined with melodies of joy, happiness, strength, determination, beauty and sometimes, sorrow.
I understood that each stitch was chiselled and carved with Lucy’s great, special light, the light of her soul– and that she poured in this beautiful work, her absolute love for life.
Big Ma has nine children, twenty-seven grand children, twenty-six great grand children and two great great grand children.
I am a French photographer and I live in Paris. When I was a toddler, my father was sent on a mission on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. So, during 4 years, we all lived on the military base. Much later, I realized how strongly these days had molded me. Yes certainly, the bright light of the Chesapeake Bay, the rhythm-and-blues songs my parents would dance to, the taste of peanut butter, maple syrup and pancakes, the beautiful music of the American language, the eerie-though-friendly jungle that had been my playground with its ravine and entangled lianas – all these elements combined to let grow what I call “my American roots”.
The nostalgia of these multi-colored emotions drew me back to the United States many times, from my twenties, up to now. There, on the land of my childhood, I have always the feeling to be back home, even if France “est mon pays”. During one of my trips, I fell in love with Memphis and the Mississippi Delta and made these places my new source of inspiration. Thanks to my family of Southern friends, I come back every year, work for the B.B. King Summer Camp kids, give guest talks, have exhibitions, create new projects about the Blues, and so on. UNBROKEN spread out of my mind, a few days after I came back home, last October.