Home > Uncategorized > February 17 – Faith Ringgold

February 17 – Faith Ringgold

Yesterday I wrote about LeVar Burton, creator/exec producer/host of Reading Rainbow. Later in the evening, while we were having dinner at home, Yujin mentioned she actually remembered seeing a couple of episodes of Reading Rainbow when Netty was growing up, and the one that stood out most vividly in her memory featured a guest appearance by a famous female African-American artist known for using quilts as her canvas. Can you name this artist?…

Faith Ringgold is an African-American artist, activist, feminist and author who is best known for her large, painted story quilts. She was born in Harlem, New York in 1930, and as a child, she learned to sew fabrics creatively from her mother (a professional fashion designer) and how to make quilts from her great-great-grandmother. The act of making quilts carries considerable significance and symbolism for Faith, both personally and culturally.

African-American quilt-making is a direct byproduct of the ancient weaving done by the men in Africa. This art form was later transported to America by the slaves, and the tradition was carried on by generations of women. Ringgold’s own great-great-great grandmother, a former slave, made quilts for her white masters. Slaves of the time also made quilts for themselves and used them for warmth, to preserve memories and events, as a storytelling medium, and even as “message boards” for the Underground Railroad to guide slaves on their way north to freedom.

After studying art at New York’s City College and then earning her Master’s degree in Fine Art in 1961, Faith decided to combine her story-telling and painting skills with her family’s quilt-making roots. Initially, Faith used the quilts as borders for her works. Later, quilts became the very canvases upon which to tell her stories. Her work is rich in color, shapes and symbolism, and addresses myriad societal issues including race, gender, slavery, self-image, rape, raising children, and civil rights, as well as extolling the positive contributions of the various ethnic cultures living in America. Her work is intelligent, thought-provoking, and gently challenging without being overly aggressive. Her work was also pioneering in elevating “craft” and “women’s folk work” to “serious art.”

In the late 1980’s Ringgold ventured into writing storybooks for children after a publisher saw one of her quilt/paintings and suggested she tell the same story in book form, accompanied by her own illustrations. Starting with Tar Beach, Faith eventually wrote and illustrated 17 children’s storybooks. These stories, with their strong fictional heroines, were joyful and inspirational, and encouraged children to “take flight” and follow their dreams. Her message to the children, as it is to everyone including herself, is “If one can, anyone can, all you have to do is try.

Today, Ringgold is a married grandmother of three and lives in both New Jersey and California, where she is a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego Visual Art Department. She has won numerous awards for both her artistic and literary endeavors, and her work can be seen in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thanks for reading,

francis

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