Faith Ringgold’s French and American Story Quilts: 1990-2010

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930, is a Black artist who has worked in mixed media since the 1970s. 

The New Museum, NY exhibited a selection of the 50 odd years of her work in 2022.

 

 

Born and raised in Harlem in the milieu of the Harlem Renaissance, Faith Ringgold worked first as an art teacher in New York public schools after her graduation in art education from City College, NY.

 

The artist’s subject has been

the assumption of the offerings of her world to the end of making a coherent life, worthy both of her inheritance and of the transmission of its values.

 

 

The French and American story quilts narrate this journey.

 

 

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The artist has treated violence.  Not just the physical violence in certain North American lives today

but the consequences of violence her people have inhabited for more than 400 years.

 

Between 1979 and 1981 28 Black children were murdered in Atlanta, GA.  

This creation is Faith Ringgold’s reminder of this horror, still not fully resolved.

 

 

Atlanta Children, 1981, mixed media.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

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The first quilt Faith Ringgold made was with her mother in 1988 (Echoes of Harlem).

 

She has made more than 100 quilts. One of the most famous is the 1990 Tar Beach.

 

Here the artist recalls the dreaming  picnics of her childhood summers on a Harlem rooftop.  In the distance is the George Washington Bridge. 

 

 

Tar Beach 2, 1990, silkscreen on silk and pieced cotton print. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

In 1991, Faith Ringgold developed a series of drawings from this quilt.

These were published in a famous children’s book, Tar Beach, the first of several children’s books. 

 

 

 

poster for one of the artist’s several children’s books

 

 

The French Collection (1991-1997)

 

Faith Ringgold first visited France in 1961 with her mother – to whom this collection is dedicated – and two daughters.

She had been trained to emulate the drawings of  Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne and Maurice Utrillo, among others.

 

She was researching her own path.

 

30 years later in middle age the artist made 12 quilts to illustrate what it was (is)

 

for an African American artist, attached to the Western art tradition, fully cognizant, also, of the practice of slavery by some European civilizations,

 

to find herself and her people

 

not only excluded from that tradition 

 

but also indebted to that tradition; and deeply admiring.

 

 

 

The French Collection in the galleries of the New Museum

 

 

In quilt form, the artist tells the vexed and joyous story,

of her engagement with,

her debt to,

and her intellectual and emotional accommodation of

the European modernism of her own artistic training.

 

Her French Collection quilts are the letters home of a fictional young black artist, Willa Marie Simone.

 

Text at the top and bottom of each quilt tells the tale of her experience.

 

Willa Marie, member of a wealthy family, visits Paris in the 1920s. She writes to her Aunt Melissa about her journey to become an artist. 

 

 

Willa Marie re-fabricates and inhabits the narrative of the evolution of one major strand of European artistic modernism.

 

 

 

Le Café des Artistes: The French Collection, Part 2; #12, 1997; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection on loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

Willa Marie Simone is the proprietor of this café on the Boulevard St. Germain.  It operates as a gallery space also and she has hung her work inside.

 

Here she is – in her trademark white – standing center front making a declaration: the Colored Woman’s Manifesto of Art and Politics.  She is telling an audience of fellow artists that they should pay more attention to the artistic contribution of African American women.

 

Among the artists present are the African Americans: 

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Sargent Johnson, Romare Bearden,  Ray Saunders, William Johnson and Ed Clark.  Also Elizabeth Catlett, Augusta Savage, Lois Mailou Jones, Meta Warwick Fuller and Edmonia Lewis.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Utrillo, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gaugin are also here.

 

 

 

Detail of On the Beach at St. Tropez: Part I, #8, 1991; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection on loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

Moroccan Holiday: the French Collection, Part II, #12, 1997; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL loan to the New Museum, NY

 

Willa Marie and her Aunt Melissa, surrounded by portraits of Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Malcom X and Martin Luther King,

discuss the woman’s movement from one generation to another, motherhood, ancestry. 

Melissa explains how difficult it is to absorb and adapt the words of these giants of their civilization to an ‘ordinary’ life.

 

 

 

The French Collection in the New Museum galleries

 

 

 

Matisse’s Model:  The French Collection, Part I, #5, 1991; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Baltimore Museum of Art loan to the New Museum, NY

 

Willa Marie is posing as one of Henri Matisse’s models for a painting which has been on view in the MOMA, NY since 1963 when Faith Ringgold was beginning her artistic journey.

 

 

 

 

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Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, 1991, and detail.  Colour lithograph on paper. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles: The French Collection Part I, #4, 1991; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Private collection loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

Front and center are a group of women prominent in North American emancipation and civil rights history:

Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth, Mme. CJ Walker, Ella Baker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells.

 

They are the quilters of a Sunflower Quilt in a field of sunflowers in Arles, France.

Vincent van Gogh comes on the right bringing sunflowers.  The women shun him; especially Sojourner Truth, second from left, whose slave masters were Dutch and whose ‘native’ language was Dutch. 

The women say to each other that they are making their own contributions to the healing of the world with skills handed down in their native traditions. 

They are “making this world piece up right.”

 

 

 

Picasso’s Studio:  The French Collection Part I, #7, 1991; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022.

 

Willa Marie poses in the nude. 

In  the studio are reminders of the African art which were of great import in the evolution of modernism and especially of Cubism.

 

 

 

Dinner at Gertrude Stein’s: The French Collection Part II, #9, 1991; acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

Here conversing in the living room of Gertrude Stein are her partner, Alice B. Toklas, her brother, Leo Stein, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. 

 Zora Neale Hurston is here along with James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright.

 

 

 

 

Dancing at the Louvre, 1991,  The French Collection, part 1,#1; acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed and pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Kenyon College loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

Willa Marie, her friend, Marcia, and Marcia’s daughters dance in the Louvre. 

Superpower that it is, the artistic tradition of the ‘West’ is represented here as joyous and enlivening.

 

 

The American Collection

 

This was created after the French Collection.

The artist’s fiction here is that this is the work of Willa Marie’s daughter, Marlena, a successful American artist.

 

The fictional Marlena is a contemporary of Faith Ringgold.

 

Faith Ringgold, now very successful with the children’s books she was publishing, suspended the incorporation of text into these quilts.

 

The image alone is to tell the tale.

 

 

Born in a Cotton Field:  the American Collection #3, 1993; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric.

  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection on loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022.

 

 

 

 

Two Jemimas: The American Collection #9, 1997; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

In the galleries at the New Museum

 

 

 

Jo Baker’s Bananas:  The American Collection #4, 1997; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

The Flag is Bleeding #2; The American Collection #6; 1997; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric.

  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

We Came to America; The American Collection #1, 1997; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Loaned by Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

A Family Portrait: The American Collection #2, 1997; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1997. Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

Picnic on the Grass Alone: The American Collection #12, 1997; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric.  

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

I do not know if there is a conventional interpretation of this quilt. 

It may be that the artist has positioned her contemplative young woman alone on a picnic rug big enough for only one person, as an affront to the convention of women’s sociability and dependence on men. 

The young woman is, perhaps, unconventionally offering herself the engagement ring she is holding on her left palm.  Perhaps she is thinking about a ruptured engagement.

 

It seems that this image derives from the affront which Édouard Manet  offered in 1862/63 in his Déjeuner sur l’herbe  (Lunch on the Grass). 

There a naked woman lunches with two fully clothed men on the grass.  There is a second woman in the center background, scantily dressed and bathing. 

 

 

 

 Wanted: Douglass, Tubman and Truth, 1997. Acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. ?Location

 

Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth in the tall grass which brings to mind

the escape of slaves northwards and to Canada before the Emancipation

and the vegetation of tropical Africa

and the work of the self-taught French Modernist artist and seeker of modest background and immense imagination, Henri Rousseau.

 

 

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In 1992, Faith Ringgold moved from Harlem, NY to Englewood, NJ.

 

The move proved very difficult.

 

Coming to Jones Road Part II: Sojourner Truth Tanka #2: Ain’t I A Woman?: acrylic on canvas framed with fabric, 2010.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

This is one of the artist’s quilts which document her move to Englewood, NJ.  It is a homage to Sojourner Truth, giant of the struggle for freedom.

 

What Faith Ringgold said in 2007 about this move:

“I moved to Jones Road in Englewood, New Jersey, on November 23, 1992, with the dream of constructing a studio and creating a garden.

 

“Soon after I came to live on Jones Road and began to pursue my dream, I discovered that I was surrounded by hostile neighbors, who saw my presence on Jones Road as a threat to the “quality” of their lives.

“My dream of a studio and garden was to them no more than a rooming house with transient occupants.

“For more than six years I struggled with the town board to obtain the permits necessary to override my neighbors’ opposition and build my studio.

 

“Having traveled the world but never having lived anywhere but Harlem, this was an extremely traumatic experience for me.

 

“But art is a healer and the sheer beauty of living in a garden amidst trees, plants, and flowers has inspired me to look away from my neighbors’ unfounded animosity toward me and focus my attention on the stalwart tradition of black people who had come to New Jersey centuries before me…….”

 

 

 

 

 

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