Vivid Tales of a Black Woman Living in American

Calla Lily ArtArleen Solomon Rotchin1 Comment

Eighty-four year old Faith Ringgold, artist, and educator is best known for her painted story quilts.  

For over 50 years, the activist, storyteller, historian, author and artist has recorded her story in bold colours and even bolder statements, refusing to dilute her experience with race and gender equality. Ringgold transforms feminine symbols in her textile pieces, weaving together vivid historical and personal accounts of being a woman.

She was born in 1930 in Harlem, New York City.  As a child she was taught to sew fabrics creatively by her mother, a professional fashion designer, and to make quilts by her great-great-grandmother who had been a slave and made quilts for her white masters.    

In 1950, she studied painting at New York City’s College and taught art in the New York City public schools.  She married and had two daughters.  Ringgold received her Master’s degree in fine art in 1961.  This was when the Civil Rights movement was becoming a major force in American society affecting her and her work greatly.  She became acquainted with the feminist ideas during this time and worked as an activist for social change for women and blacks, particularly with regard to the American art museum system, which often omitted African-Americans and women from its exhibits.    

In the 1970’s, Faith Ringgold created African-style masks, painted political posters, lectured frequently at feminist art conferences, and actively sought the racial integration of the New York art world.  She organized a demonstration against the Whitney Museum of American Art and helped win admission for black artists to the exhibit schedule at the Museum of Modern Art.  With one of her daughters, she co-founded the advocacy group Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation.

Faith and her mother stayed very close through the years.  When she switched her focus to sewn arts, she and her mother worked side-by-side.  In this way, they were continuing a family tradition that stretched back through the centuries.  Her story quilts became more than just a collection of bright fabrics in a pretty design.  Faith’s quilts have something to say for themselves.  

Today, a well- known artist and grandmother of 3, Ringgold resides in both New Jersey and San Diego, California.  She has won numerous awards and her work is in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

Her motto is If One Can Anyone Can All you Gotta Do is Try.

Like her work, her motto is rich and joyful and inspiring.  Yes, her art concerns itself with serious issues of society but it is resplendent with affirmation. It deals with harsh realities, but in the final analysis, her vision is connected to following dreams and overcoming all obstacles with a soaring and unstoppable spirit.

Faith Ringgold’s first children’s book TAR BEACH won critical acclaim as well as a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration.  It is a favourite among children and adults alike.

It is the story of 8-year old Cassie Lightfoot, a young dreamer who uses the roof of her Harlem apartment (the tar beach) as the launch pad for her imagination and her own personal gateway to New York City.  Through her imagination, Ringgold allows her heroine to travel places that segregation would not allow her to go, with the freedom of a child.