mixed media artist • storyteller
Born in 1930 in Harlem, NY, Faith Ringgold was greatly influenced by the artistic culture that emerged after the Harlem Renaissance. Though she was encouraged as a child to pursue all kinds of creative forms of expression, even to go to City College to study art, the degree available to her as a woman was only for arts education. While an art teacher in the NYC public schools, Ringgold pursued various forms of arts media in her personal work.
Her most popular pieces have been her story quilts, many of which have been made into children’s books. She chose to paint on quilts instead of canvasses as a way to ground her work in women’s experience (and so she would no longer need her husband’s help in carrying pieces to exhibits!).
Over the years, Ringgold’s art has morphed from painted fabric quilts to sculpture masks to performance art (using her creations as props). All her pieces, crafted or performed, center on telling a story.
Early on in her career she tried to get a NYC gallery to show her work. She brought paintings of flowers and leaves, pieces she thought they would want. The dealer told her she couldn’t do that. She was mystified. But later in the car, talking to her husband, she realized what the dealer really meant.
“I think what she’s saying is—it’s the 1960s, all hell is breaking loose all over… your job is to tell your story. Your story has to come out of your life, your environment, who you are, where you come from.”
And that’s what she has done with her art since then: tell her story and her family’s story in every form of media available to her.
Links for Further Exploration
- Artist website
- Craft in America focus on Faith Ringgold
- VIDEO: Craft in America Threads episode: Quilt artist Faith Ringgold
- Related BMC Artist: Vera Baker Williams (1927-2015), a children’s book author & co-founder of the Stony Point Community
- Related Contemporary Artist: Bisa Butler, who also works in quilt/fabric medium. Further explore here and here.
Invitation to Creativity
We all have stories to share. Consider the story of how you came to be a knitter or crocheter. Did you learn as a child or as an adult? Did you learn from friends or family, a book, the internet? Did it take? Or did you return to it later and relearn?
Jot down some notes of your crafting story in your journal. Then look around for some things that might help tell that story: photos of your teachers, scraps of a pattern, image from a magazine, piece of yarn, anything that speaks to the story. You could create a collage on paper or use your camera to document. You might write pieces of the story, like snatches of memory, on scraps of paper and add them to the collage. Like Ringgold, don’t forget you can use the margins, every bit, to tell your story!
Portrait of Your Hands: An extension of this activity might be to find a way to photograph your hands — with or without crafting tools — as part of your crafting story. This image could be included in your story collage or journal reflections, or be a separate project. Either way, take some time to honor your hands and their ability to create! Massage and add lotion or healing cream to these awesome parts of your body that help you do so many things.