The Masters | Faith Ringgold’s Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles and “Our Dedication to Change in the World”

Faith Ringgold. The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles. Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border. 1991.

The National Sunflower Quilters of America are having quilting bees in sunflower fields all over the world to spread the cause of freedom. Aunt Melissa has written and informed me of this to say: “Go with them to the sunflower fields in Arles. And please take care of them in the foreign country, Willa Marie. These women are our freedom,” she wrote.

For our last sunflower masterpiece we bask in the awesome “presence” of Faith Ringgold’s  The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles. A print of the masterpiece sits in my home office [still] waiting to be framed. I have been trying to get to this post since I purchased it, but put it off many times because I am inclined to approach her work academically. For sanity’s sake, I need to keep my academic work and my blog separate.

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) is an African American painter, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, writer, teacher and lecturer. Her work often carries strong socio-political messages about the African American experience. 

The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles is the fourth piece in Ringgold’s French Collection, a collection of 12 story quilts, that “uses a combination of painted images, narrative text, and decorative borders to explore the often absent role of African-American women in the art-world, particularly in Paris during the 1920s.” (Ellen C. Caldwell).

The story quilt features “The Sunflower Quilters Society of America” and its March 22, 1922 effort, a quilt bedecked with gorgeous sunflowers. Eight influential African American women hold the edge of the quilt, surrounded by a field of sunflowers in Arles. A “tormented” Vincent van Gogh stands just behind them offering his still life, Fifteen Sunflowers in a Vase, to the queens of change: Madam C.J. Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ella Baker [In a 1996 print, Ringgold added her fictional character in the lower left beside Madam C.J. Walker].

Around the edges of the quilt is the story–in 12 parts–of the Sunflower Quilters, as told by Ringgold’s fictional character, Willa Marie Simone. Van Gogh is a troublesome presence to some, like Harriet Tubman, who demands, “Make him leave. He reminds me of the slavers.” But Van Gogh is firmly planted: “Like one of the sunflowers, he appeared to be growing out of the ground.” And when the sun went down and it was time for the women to leave, “the tormented little man just settled inside himself and took on the look of the sunflowers in the field as if he was one of them” [Part 7].

I got to get back to the railroad, Harriet said. “Ain’t all of us free yet, no matter how many them laws they pass. Sojourner fighting for women’s rights. Fannie for voter registration. Ella and Rosa working on civil rights. Ida looking out for mens getting lynch. Mary Bethune getting younguns education, and Madam making money fixing hair and giving us jobs. Lord we’re sure busy.” [Part 11]

Through The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles Ringgold pays homage to and celebrates African American women and their contributions to education, freedom, and justice. She also honors the fine artistry of African American quilt making. Through the piece she acknowledges van Gogh’s contribution to the art world, but she calls on us to also recognize the equal contribution of African American women artists.

Want more information? Be sure to click the links in this posts and check out these additional links:

Until next time…Shine on!

 

The Masters | Anguish and Gratitude: Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers with Heart

Vincent Van Gogh. “Three Sunflowers in a Vase.” Oil on Canvas. August, 1888, Arles. United States. Private Collection.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with all the sunflower goodness this week. Sadly, we’re just two more posts away from the end of “Sunflower Month.”

I am clearly intrigued by the approach of the masters to the sunflower. Many of them seem to have been as taken with its luminescent beauty as I am. I am in no way an artist like the masters featured all week, but sunflowers are certainly the most doodled flower in my journals, sketchbooks, and letters.

When I began this final week of “Sunflower Month,” I had intended to do only three posts, but I got a little carried away because there were more than three sunflower masters in my collection. My favorite, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch Post-Impressionist, was always on the list. Let’s consider the “sunflower tree” a bonus post, because this week of masters will not be complete without attention to his still life sunflower series—especially with the final masters post I have in mind. 😉

Vincent Van Gogh. “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers.” Oil on Canvas. August 1888, Arles. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

From 1888-1889, van Gogh completed seven sunflower still life masterpieces in the studio he shared with Paul Gaugin in Arles, France. He had intended to fill the walls with their brilliance before Gaugin’s arrival. The two featured above are in my postcard collection, thanks to Debbie T, my Love Notes pal (Twelve Sunflowers), and Eepy on swap-bot (Three Sunflowers).

There are four others in the Sunflower Series that were completed in 1887 in Paris. One of them–Four Cut Sunflowers (below)– took my breath away the first time I saw it!

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

In a letter to his sister Willemien, van Gogh writes:

[…] the desire comes over me to remake myself and try to have myself forgiven for the fact that my paintings are, however, almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower.  (Letter 856)

Perhaps this tension explains why van Gogh’s “still life” sunflowers are anything but “still.” Each sunflower–in the vases or cut and wilting on a table–is full of personality, life, and movement. Each evokes an emotional response.

I read somewhere that van Gogh wanted to be remembered for his brilliant sunflowers (goal accomplished!) and that people honored his desire by wearing sunflowers to his funeral.

What a radiant sendoff!

Like the Heart

Let me seek You
in the darkness
of my silence

and find You
in the silence
of Your light.

which is
love shining
like the sun

flowing
like a river
and joying

like the heart

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Masters | Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower Tree with “Room to Grow”

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

Of course, I realize this is not a tree, but if a sunflower were a tree—this is what it would look like, towering over us all with all its sunny goodness—maybe with a few more blossoms.

I’d planned a different Vincent van Gogh post for this week, but since today is “tree love” Thursday, I decided to try passing off a sunflower as a tree. This is the type of sunflower that my student Wanéa finds a little scary. No flower should be taller than a human, in her opinion, so for her sake, yes, let’s consider this a tree.

Please enjoy van Gogh’s Allotment with Sunflower with a meditation for the restless soul:

Room to Grow
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

My life is like a page on which
So much is already:

hurts and joys and the tumble
of fears and uncertainties.

What You want of me, God, is
that I clean the slate, emptying

it of all this to make room for
the freedom of nothingness

where alone You, my God,
have room to grow.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

The Masters | Gustav Klimt’s Sunflowers in Gardens

Gustav Klimt. Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen (1905/1906). Belvedere Palace and Museum, Vienna.

What is the purpose of creation?
That everything might simply be. —Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows, from “Lesson I” (Unlearning)

Since we’re on the subject of postcards from Eileen V, I might as well share the two Klimt postcards she sent last year. Eileen keeps me well supplied with sunflowers, so it was with pleasure that she sent and I received–not one but–two sunflower postcards featuring the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Klimt was a Symbolist painter and a founding member of the  Vienna Secession (Art Nouveau) movement.

Despite his extensive portfolio. I am, unsurprisingly, drawn most to his sunflower pieces.

The piece above is entitled Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen  (or Farm Garden with Sunflowers). My camera and I would love to explore such a garden exploding with color.  [Note: I have seen four different dates assigned to this work, so I am not sure of the correct date–1905-1906, 1912, 1913, 1916–but 1905/06 seems more likely].

The second scene, Die Sonnenblume (or The Sunflower), could have been extracted from another part of the garden presented in the first piece–though that is clearly not the case.

Klimt

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), “Die Sonnenblume” (“The Sunflower”), 1906/1907, Private Collection, Vienna

The scan does very little for this postcard. The broad leaves of the sunflower are trimmed in gold and the postcard itself features gilded edges. Unfortunately, the scan rendered them a strange, dark color, which wasn’t visually appealing (so I cropped away the border). Notwithstanding the subpar scan, Her Majesty is pretty impressive.

For a glimpse of the unaltered original, click here: Die Sonnenblume, and for Farm Garden with Sunflowers, click here: Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen [Be sure to click the links above to learn a little about the artist and the works].

Klimt gifted us sunflowers and gardens that serve no other purpose but to live gloriously in their natural state. Their brilliance beckons us and we simply stand in awe.

The Masters | John Bratby’s Sunflowers

John Bratby, Sunflowers I, Oil on Canvas

For our final week of Sunflower Month we will survey a few sunflower masterpieces–works of the sunflower masters that leave us in awe. We cannot possibly feature all the masters, so we will focus on [some of] those who are featured in my personal “sunflower collection.”

The sunflower art above is featured on the cover of Book of the Heart, so it is perfect for our first post of the week. The oil painting was one of many sunflower paintings by English artist John Bratby (1928-1992), best known for his central role in the Kitchen Sink School of Art, a style of realism active in London between 1952 and 1957.

We have reached the point in the pandemic at which we are all overwhelmed, anxious, and restless, so I will be sharing with this week’s sunnies selections from Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for a Restless Soul. In this collection Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows “attempt to [re]voice” the mystic’s thoughts. I hope the posts brighten your days (sunflowers) and stills your soul (Eckhart).

“Sometimes You Have to Break Things”
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

It’s true:
Sometimes you have
to break things
if you want
to grasp God in them.
In the breaking,
we allow what is holy
to take form
in us.  

Be sure to click the links to learn more about Bratby and his art and be sure to join us for more, more, more brilliant masterpieces!

Four Promises and a Gift

Tyhara Rain

“Tranquility” by Tyhara Rain

Yesterday, a friend dropped by to bring me a gift. Her gift and note became the impetus for the theme of this week’s blog posts—the gift. I will share some details of her gift later this week, but today, I’m sharing most of a blog post I wrote four years ago. I realized as I was thinking about today’s post that I wrote the post before…pretty much.

Instead of “reblogging” the post, I’m giving you the salient points and a little artsy goodness.

In order to see God’s vision for your life and become part of God’s story, there are four promises you must claim:

  1. You have a gift only you can give.

  2. Someone has a need only you can meet, only you can heal—no matter how inadequate you feel.

  3. Joy is the journey where the gift and the need collide. God’s path for your life is a collision course. The intersection where your gift crashes into the world’s need is where you will truly begin to live.

  4. Your journey to give your gift will break you…but it will also make you.  –[from Better Than You Can Imagine: God’s Calling, Your Adventure by Patrick Quinn, emphasis mine]

The excerpt from Better Than You Can Imagine unveils a principle I embrace. If we are to create change in the world then we have to find the gift someone needs—the world needs—that only we can give. We don’t just wake up one morning and decide what we’re going to give. We decide to accept and share the gift, but discovering this gift is a journey—not a decision.

Imagine how much collective change we can create if all individuals would take the journey to find that one thing and exercise it. We would literally change the world! As we partner with God on finding this “great need,” our lives are transformed from the inside out and we experience the “symbiotic” nature of change: the world opens up and reveals to us what it needs and we open up and provide.

Far too often we get caught up in the idea of making a name for ourselves or doing something grand when what seems smallest can make a huge impact on someone’s life and ultimately in the world.

Tyhara Rain

“Turbulence” by Tyhara Rain

A long time ago, I read “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” a poem by Robert Browning, which celebrates the grammarian’s lifelong dedication to Greek language study and his discovery of the articles. While he lived, his colleagues criticized his “wasting his life” and his brilliant mind on such trifles. For them his work was menial, but, though they seem a small contribution, the articles—a, an, and the—are so essential to our languages.

Like the grammarian, we must be keenly focused on finding our part and then doing it. In doing our “small” part, we change the whole.

I encourage you, if you have not already done so, take the journey to find your unique gift. In affecting even one person’s life, you’re doing your part to change the entire world.


About the Image: The artwork above is the work of one my students, Tyhara Rain. They are two of three companion pieces she gave to me as a parting gift when COVID-19 forced campus to shut down during her final semester of college and abruptly ended our long chats about art, literature, and life. :-/ We are still in touch, and I am glad she left so many precious gifts from the heart.  [Note: the scans do very little justice to these paintings].

Love of Freedom

In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.

–18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), in a letter to Native American ordained Presbyterian minister, Samson Occom (1723-1792)


About the Image: The gorgeous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I received the collection as a gift from my hubby. Thankfully, the box includes two sets of the postcards–I send 50 out into the world and keep 50 for myself! 😉

Wild Silver!

How do you feel about another museum trip?

The Huntsville Museum of Art Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie is another must-see exhibit, and since you can’t be here, I’m bringing some of the pieces to you. I have fewer photographs than I had for last week’s visit showing of the American Studio Glass Exhibit, but the pieces are just as fascinating.

The exhibit features selections from the Museum’s permanent collection of  silver creations designed and fabricated in Italy by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. They were donated by Betty Grisham of Huntsville, Alabama. According to the museum’s website, the Huntsville Museum of Art holds the world’s largest public collection of these unique works of art.

Each piece was designed by Italian jeweler, Gianmaria Buccellati.

Lion, 2000. 925 Sterling.

The present house of Buccellati was founded in 1919 in Milan, Italy and originated what is known as the Buccellati style, which combines Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials, and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty. This distinctive style won favor with a discriminating international clientele, including the Vatican as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and Egypt. —Huntsville Museum of Art

Bear, 1997. 925 Sterling.

Gianmaria Buccellati carries on the family tradition today as an internationally renowned silversmith.  He has dedicated his life to creating extraordinary objects that exemplify fine Italian craftsmanship.  –Huntsville Museum of Art

Bear, 1997. 925 Sterling.

His signature silver animals replicate creatures from earth, sea, and sky in a highly realistic manner. Buccellati invented a new method of working in silver to capture fine detail like feathers, hair, or different types of skin, known as “lavorazione a pelo” or “hair-like workmanship.” —Huntsville Museum of Art

Giraffe, 1994. 800 Silver.

An animal reproduced “a pelo” is the result of welding countless silver filaments of varying length and thickness to give the actual appearance of the natural coat. It is a demanding method that requires the highest level of skill and an absolute mastery of soldering techniques. —Huntsville Museum of Art

Tortoise, 2006. 925 Silver.

Animals with the hair-like workmanship were originally produced in 800 silver, which is stronger but less pure than 925 sterling due to its higher alloy content. This was because the intense heat of soldering used in the creation of the animals would have melted the very thin filaments if they were sterling, but the Buccellati artisans were able to invent a new technique of soldering that allowed them to work within the heat tolerance of sterling silver. As a result, all animals produced since 1995 have been created in 925 sterling.  –Huntsville Museum of Art

Swan, 2000. 925 Silver.

Swan, 2000. 925 Silver.

Marine Centerpiece, 1997. 925 Sterling. Amethyst Geode.

I somehow missed photographing the flamingo, which, like the giraffe, is considered a highlight of the collection, but you can see it here on Flickr. [Tip: If you move backwards or forwards in the Flickr album, you’ll see other animals I did not photograph].

My favorites–you guessed it–are the lion and the bear. I just can’t wrap my mind around the exquisite crafting of the hair and fur! The giraffe is über cute and I’m intrigued by the sea creatures. The whole collection is mesmerizing–which is probably why I missed photographing some of the animals.

Do you have a favorite?

Blown Glass and Reflections

Since we are [hopefully] still “sheltering-in-place,” this [not so] #WordlessWednesday is a good time for a museum visit, so I’m sharing some shots from a trip to the Huntsville Museum of Art last summer.

I shared a few photographs from the A New Moon Rises exhibit and a photograph of Breathing from the American Studio Glass exhibit late last year.

Today, we’ll explore more pieces from the American Studio Glass exhibit which is on continuous view at the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Two galleries in the Davidson Wing provide the Museum a showcase for its outstanding holding of American Studio Glass. The collection was initiated in 1995 with the purchase of Cam Langley’s Three Flower Vase, and has grown to nearly four-dozen pieces. Several of the movement’s icons are represented in the collection, as well as nationally and regionally significant voices. The Collection encompasses a wide range of different techniques, including blowing, flame working, casting, and carving. Also included are works combining glass with other materials such as wood, rope, paint, gold and silver leaf, and manipulated imagery. The Museum is pleased to highlight the creativity and variety of the American Studio Glass movement with this exhibit.  –from Huntsville Museum of Art website.

The pieces, primarily made of glass, are all so fascinating that it was difficult to leave the gallery and nearly impossible to pick a favorite.

Keep in mind that I was photographing glass through glass, so obviously, there are a lot of reflections in the photos. Even though you can’t see the pure elegance of each piece, the reflections add a bit of interest to the photos.

Stephen Rolfe Powell (b. 1951, Birmingham, Alabama/d. 2019, Danville, KY). Bodacious Gasp Johnson, 1994.

Blown glass, 30x24x6 inches. Museum purchase in memory of Elinor “Nell” Francis, Paula Frederick, Jewel Halsey, Lieutenant Colonel LeRoy F. Lawson, Kay Ludwig, Loretta G. Och, Leonard Walker Peeler, Dorris Weems, Robert Wiggins, and Helen Yager.

Mary Van Cline (b. 1954, Dallas, TX/lives in Seattle, WA). The Healing Winds of Time, 1997. Photosensitive glass, cast black glass, copper patina.

John Littleton and Kate Vogel (JL b. 1957, Madison, WI; KV b. 1956, Cambridge, England/live in Bakersville, NC). Light Vessel, 2008.

John’s hands cast in amber glass, holding cut disk, interior red, ruby gold leaf with gold ring mica, purple ring and fiberglass painted with glass enamel. Museum purchase, funds provided by Alice Chang.

Thomas Farbanish (b. 1963, Endicott, NY/lives in Bellefonte, PA). Untitled, 1995. Blown glass, acid etched.

Dale Chihuly (b. 1941, Tacoma, WA/lives in Seattle, WA). Imperial Iris Persian Set with Chartreuse Lip, 1999. Blow glass (editioned).  Gift of Alice Chang in honor of Peter J. Baldaia.

Dale Chihuly (b. 1941, Tacoma, WA/lives in Seattle, WA). Red Amber Persian Pair, 2010. Blow glass (editioned).  Gift of Alice Chang in honor of David J. Reyes.

Dante Marioni (b. 1964, Mill Valley, CA/lives in Seattle, WA). Orange Trio, 1996. Blown glass.

Museum purchase, Gala Acquisition Fund.

Ginny Ruffner (b. Atlanta, GA/lives in Seattle, WA). Dancing Box, 2007.

Stainless steel and glass.

Gift of the artist in honor of the Women’s Guild of the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Cappy Thompson (b. 1952, Alexandria, VA/lives in Olympia, WA). Riding Fearless into the Future, 1994. Vitreous enamels on blown glass.

Museum purchase in memory of Harry Rhett, Jr.

Judith LaScola (b. 1955, Pittsburgh, PA/lives in Stamwood, WA). Slumped Series with Winter Bowl, 1996.

Blown, carved, and painted glass, gold leaf. Gift of Alice Chang.

Judith LaScola (b. 1955, Pittsburgh, PA/lives in Stamwood, WA). Yen Series/Gold and Midnight Blue, 1996.

Blown, carved, and painted glass, gold leaf.

Museum purchase, funds provided by Al and Marcy Haraway, the Boeing Company, and the Gala Acquisition Fund.

That’s it for my little taste of the collection. If you want to learn more about the collection, do visit the Huntsville Museum of Arts website.

Summer is always a good time to catch up on museums and galleries, and that doesn’t have to change because COVID-19 has forced museums worldwide to close. Many, many museums are offering virtual museum tours. Search using your favorite search engine or begin with the list of 75 museums offering virtual tours I stumbled on earlier today. That should fill your artsy cup to the brim.

Until next time…

“When Giving Is All We Have”

Terrance Osborne, “Front Line”

This morning as we began our final Shakespeare session for the semester (sad face), one of my students requested prayer for the nurses who are suffering under the strain of watching far too many patients die as a result of COVID-19. Just moments before that, I read a Facebook post in which one of my friends, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson, a Nurse Practitioner and author, announced that after prayerful consideration, she’s heading to New York City to help with the COVID-19 relief effort there.

I often think about the health care professionals who are on the front line of this thing day after day after day. No matter how well-trained they are, no matter how often they see death, it is still inexplicably HARD.  The connections between nurse and patient or doctor and patient–however brief–matter, and every death carries emotional weight. With COVID-19 doctors and nurses are bearing witness to far more than the “usual” and they are still out there, weighed down with the grief and burden of so much loss, fighting to save lives.

Some might wonder why someone like Dr. Lawson, a busy NP with a booming practice and a very full life of her own, would uproot and rush into this daunting challenge. Albert RÍos’ poem provides the answers—not only for why we give in the big ways but also why we do so in our smaller, daily interactions.

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto RÍos

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

About this poem, RÍos wrote:

This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.  –from poets.org

Thank you to our health care professionals and to all our public servants and other essential workers for whom the stay-at-home order does not apply.  Thank you to all of you who give daily in your own spaces, outside your own spaces, and “in-between” spaces. We are making something new, something beautiful when we give.


About the image: The image above is the work of New Orleans artist, Terrance Osborne. He created Front Line—a nod to Rosie the Riveter—“to show the men and women on the front line that we love and support them.” [Did you catch the fleur de lis–symbol of New Orleans?] Osborne generously offered the image above as a free phone screen saver and gave 1000 posters to local hospitals. A lithograph ($75 signed; $40 unsigned) can be purchased via his website. To see more of this phenomenal artist’s work, please go to his website. You’ll feel like you’ve just taken a tour of my beloved hometown.