Faith Ringgold

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Peggy Orr

Professor Knight

Art History

April 12, 2009

Ringgold’s Story Quilts

Faith Ringgold’s artwork on her quilts is not only beautiful but literally

tells stories. Ringgold began her artistic career more than 35 years ago as a

painter. Today, she is best known for her painted story quilts -- art that combines

painting, quilted fabric and storytelling. She has exhibited in major museums in

the USA, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. She is in the

permanent collection of many museums including the Studio Museum in Harlem,

the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and

The Museum of Modern Art. Ringgold received her Bachelors and Masters

degrees from The City College of New York many years ago. She taught in the

New York Public schools for 18 and one half years, however, today she is a

senior professor of art at University of California in San Diego, California

The content caught my attention to Ringgold’s image Tar Beach

(pg.1166). The image is acrylic on canvas paper, bordered with printed, painted,

quilted and pieced cloth, 741/4 x 681/2”. The subject of the story quilt illustrates a

Depression era girl's imaginative foray to heights from which she can see and

therefore claim her world. Picnicking on the roof of her family's Harlem apartment

building - a "tar beach" to which they bring fried chicken and roasted peanuts,

watermelon and beer, and not least, friends and laughter. Cassie pictures herself

soaring above New York City: above the George Washington Bridge, which her

father helped build; above the headquarters of the union that has denied him

membership, because of his half-black, half-Indian heritage; above the rooms in

which they live. Ringgold's strong figures and flattened perspective bring a

distinctive magic to this dreamy and yet wonderfully concrete vision, narrated in

poetic cadences that capture the language and feel of flight. Part autobiographical,

part fictional, this allegorical tale sparkles with symbolic and historical references

central to African-American culture. The spectacular artwork resonates with color

and texture. The painted scene in the center of the quilt shows a Harlem rooftop on

a starry night with four adults playing cards and with Cassie Louise Lightfoot and

her brother, Be Be, lying on a blanket gazing at the sky.

It took Ringgold one month to finish Tar Beach. She is an inspired Artist

who’s ideas come from reflecting on her own life and the lives of people she has

known and have been in some way inspired by. Ringgold thinks about the

characters and the story she wants to tell and then she begins to write the chapters

in segments. And then, just like the materials of a quilt, she pieces the words

together until they make a story. She has to edit many times before it is finished

and ready to be written on the quilt. The story is written with a black fine (felt) tip

Sanford Sharpie marker. The African American Artist drew on the traditional

American craft of quilt making and combined it with the rich heritage of African

textiles to create memorable statements about American race relations.

Ringgold’s mother, Willi Posey, a fashion designer and dressmaker, made

these quilted borders until her death in 1981, after which Ringgold took

responsibility for both the quilting and the painting. In 1977 Ringgold began writing

her autobiography (We flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold,

1995). Not immediately finding a publisher, she decided to write her stories on her

quilts, and in the early 1980’s inaugurated what became her signature medium:

The story quilt. Animated by a powerful feminist sensibility, Ringgold’s story quilts

are always narrated by women and usually...
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