My great grandmother was a spinner in South Carolina for most of her life. She took me there before she died, and I recorded the burnt out and collapsed structures as a perfect reflection of how manufacturing has continued to leave our borders over the years. The elegant brick structures have been abandoned for cheap labor and lower environmental standards found elsewhere in the world.
Offering an intimate portrayal of life in a ‘mill village’, where inhabitants were often referred to as ‘lintheads’, I appropriated excerpts from my grandmother’s letters into burnt drawings of the mill. They reflect the difficulties of life during the industrial era and remind us that we are not so different from people elsewhere.
Lee Lee | lintheads oil on burlap 36″ x 28″ | 2007
“Other school mates called them Niggers because they were part Indian and so very dark.My Mother never told me this.I think this is one reason,she let other people intimidate her,all through Life.Plus her Perents kept her out of School until her younger Sister was old enough to go.That way they could walk together. The had Primmer(same as Kinder Garten)when she got into the First grade,she was 8 yrs.old. She made straight A’s,all the way through the 8th grade,then her Family took her out of School to go to work in the Mill to help support the Family This has always bothered her.I told her than should not bother her.She had 3 Sons that got her smarts and their Daddy’s stong Back,they were not afraid of work.One with out the other does not function very well.”
“Sene and Lum’s eldest Child was named Roy.He worked in a Textile Plant all of his life,had 3 Daughters and was the first to die.Lois was the 2nd.child…Milton was next,Textile,also.After retirement,became a Deputy Sheriff.The Story is that you should never put a Gun and Holster on some People.It changes their entire Personality.He had 2 Sons,the Dr.dropped the Instuments on the firs Baby’s Head and killed it.The next Son lived to be 16 and died with Cancer.We were not familiar with Cancer back then.”
“Mema is the last of her 9 Brothers and Sisters. None of them lived to be her age,neither Perents. She was always sickly,never walking until she was 3.The sister that she was the closest was Kathleen.They played together,constantly …They lived in a House on the Mill Village that was built on very high Brick Pillars You could walk around under it.They would build a play house by drawing off the rooms with a stick in the dirt.They filled each room with broken dishes,vases,back then there were not many things being thrown away.They piled up wood for their stove.An older Brother (Milton)told Mema to go ask Granny for a match to light their stove. Granny came under the HOuse and gave Milton a sound thrashing,he knew better,Mema and Kathleen were too young.”
“Lum could not read and write.He boarded a School Teacher in exchange for teaching him.The Teacher was amazed with his ability to work with numbers.When Lum retired from the Mill,He was Asst.Superintendant of the Mill.A very well liked Man.He suffered so much from Asthma and died when he was my age.”
“Lum and Sene,always lived on the Mill Village.He was born in Pelzer (in Piedmont Sene),which is a Mill Town 16 miles from here.His Mother and Father died when he was very young.An older Brother reared him.He went to work in the Mill when he was 9 yrs.old.Long before child labor laws.Lum bought the Farm where I was born and my Daddy Cecil was a Share Cropper.I remember when I was a Child, Lum would come every Sunday,he and my Daddy would walk over the Fields and discuss things“ Quotes from letters written by my grandmother, Bonnie Jean Cromer
In the collection of Eron Johnson, Denver
Lee Lee | lintheads | 11″ x 11″ | May 2007 Xerograph, charcoal, pencil and tar paper collaged with burnt Strathmore paper