Nova Scotia

Mommay's Patches explores traditions and superstitions in North Preston

Letitia Fraser is a bachelor of fine arts student at NSCAD University in Halifax. Her first exhibition, Mommay's Patches: Traditions & Superstitions, will be shown at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax from Feb. 4–9.

'It's important for my people of my community to see themselves represented,' says painter Letitia Fraser

All the figures in Letitia Fraser's colourful canvas and oil paintings on fabric are members of her large family — and show real life in North Preston. Her first exhibition, Mommay's Patches: Traditions & Superstitions, will be shown at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax from Feb. 4 – 9. 3:54

Letitia Fraser is a bachelor of fine arts student at NSCAD University in Halifax.  Her first exhibition, Mommay's Patches: Traditions & Superstitions, will be shown at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax from Feb. 4 – 9.

All the figures in Fraser's colourful canvas and oil paintings are members of her large family.

Her work incorporates the legacy of her grandmother Rosella Fraser's quilting to explore the traditions and superstitions in the African-Nova Scotian community of North Preston, N.S.

Rosella Fraser Sr., or Mommay, had 15 children and raised 17. She made quilts out of necessity to keep her children warm in the family's uninsulated home. She died in 2010.

Letitia Fraser graduates in April.

Fraser recently spoke with the CBC's Sherri Borden Colley about her exhibition. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mommay's quilting legacy

I paint on used fabrics in a similar way that my grandmother would have used used fabrics to create her quilts for her family members.  So I just want to incorporate that into my work as well.

She was a very giving person, very warm person. And, yeah, she had a bit of a legacy and I just want to keep it, her traditions and everything that has been passed down to my mother. I want to keep that going because I find that a lot of quilting isn't really as popular nowadays especially in the community.

Yeah, so back in the 50s and 60s, when she would have had the majority of her children, quilting — like making quilts — was more like a survival thing and so she would have just made them … the homestead that my grandfather built wasn't insulated and so she would have used a lot of these quilts to just protect our family.

Traditions and superstitions

Well the tradition itself is mainly the quilting. The superstitions I grew up with (were) mainly things that are used to ward off evil, like salt and flax seeds.

Letitia Fraser stands in front of a painting she did of her mother, Rosella Fraser. (Robert Short/CBC)

I also feel like it's important for my people of my community to see themselves represented, as well. I'm representing my people. I'm showing my people in a positive light. A lot of times, the community, specifically the community North Preston I find, gets a lot of negativity around it. And so I feel like it's important that people come in and they see … what we look like, who we are.

My family's a big inspiration for my work. My uncle, Alexander Fraser, he painted, he's a painter.  And then, my mother, she was also an artist and so I think that was just kind of trickled down to me keeping that tradition going, as well.

I've been painting probably since I was really young. My mother used to put me into youth programs at NSCAD and then I just kept nurturing that passion.

Making family faces pop out

This is a painting I did of my mother back in 2017. She's a singer and I really wanted to just show her and also just kind of like our faith. Yeah. That's a big part of my family; it's a big part of my community and who we are. So the images that I chose kind of have something to do with the painting, or the figure.

There are these plants that are called the Rosella plants … and so my mother's name is Rosella and I wanted to have that connection and she's named after her mother. I wanted there to be a connection with my grandmother as well and a lot of elders that I grew up with.

This is one of Fraser's paintings, featuring her cousin Keenan Fraser. (Letitia Fraser)

This painting over here is my most recent work. It's of my Aunt Bolivia Czernon and her daughter, Eunez. She's also a quilter. And yeah she's continuing that legacy as well. I've painted with oil. I try to keep the paint kind of translucent. But I want the face to pop out and not be as translucent as like her clothes.

So this is a painting of my baby sister [Adina] that I took a long time ago. And, yeah, it's just perfect just because she's first waking up in the morning and I think like … most little black girls our hair is not necessarily where it was when we went to sleep. My sister, she loves it. Her first reaction is she just absolutely loved it.

This is a painting Letitia Fraser did of her mother, Rosella Fraser, in 2017. (Letitia Fraser)

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca