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!

 

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].

Weekend Joy and the Clinton Row Colorwalk

A smile relieves a heart that grieves. Remember what I said. –The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

So far this long weekend has been exactly what I needed. When I left work Thursday, I’d planned to take the four-day weekend seriously re: self-care and joy breaks. I had some “unfinished business,” so I worked till noon Friday and I haven’t thought about work since then.

I have been just as serious about my 10 days of joy.

Yesterday, I held my first full “brain dump” session in a long time and ended up with a three-page list of all the things that have been nipping at my soul. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very “joyful.” And it isn’t. In fact, without context, the list is sad, stressful, anxious, but the JOY is in how I felt after writing the list! I have been carrying too much stuff internally, and when I don’t deal with it or even take a moment to acknowledge it, all that soul-gunk spills out in not-so-nice ways. So…taking an hour or so Sunday morning to detoxify my soul was beneficial in many ways.

I’m not sure I would have been able to even approach that list if the guys and I hadn’t taken time out for creativity Saturday afternoon. We grabbed our cameras, headed downtown, donned our masks, and took a two-hour photo walk. The weather was perfect—cloudy, cool, and breezy.

I noted the typical street scenes—musicians playing, private conversations, storefronts, architecture, diners—but, because I am nearly obsessed with street art, the Clinton Row Colorwalk was my favorite joy moment of the walk!

The Clinton Row Colorwalk is an alley filled with murals painted by Huntsville (Alabama) artists.

Mick Jagger with Frame

Needless to say, every single piece of work thrilled me, but the quote written along the frame of the Mick Jagger portrait transformed the art into a powerful statement:

I pray that looking beyond this day we can all work together to overcome the hatred and division and start to heal the pain and suffering that everybody is feeling in this country.

Here’s a collage of “sneak peaks” of some the other pieces:

To see the full pieces, see my Flickr album here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Album and for more information about the art and some of the artists’ processes, check out the Facebook page here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Community.

What is today’s joy break? I’ll be spending time with family safely celebrating my baby cousin’s kindergarten graduation!

Joy all around!

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! 😉

Blowing Kisses: Sculpting with Tyhara Rain

“Blowing Kisses.” Sculpture by Tyhara Rain, 2019

I thought I’d treat you today to the art vlog of my student, Tyhara Rain, talking about one of her latest art projects. I really, really, really love her interpretation of “Blowing Kisses.” It was a commissioned work, but the person decided not to purchase it because the price–though more than fair–was higher than expected.

The finished product is above, but here’s Ty talking all about the process.

You’ve seen Tyhara’s sculptures on Pics and Posts before: Sunflower Story: The Sacred Joy of Creating and A Written Word: A Small Thing. I hope she inspires you to create something this weekend.

Wild Roses and a Moment of Sweetness

“Eglantine,” from an original mouth-painted by D. Legrix. Published by the Association of Handicapped Artists.

I had a sweet moment today while looking for a particular postcard to blog today. Mixed in with the snail mail and art projects [in various stages] that consume my craft desk was a card from Aunt Sac [short for Sacramento], one of my great aunts, written way back in 1992.  Aunt Sac was very fond of me and I of her. [I was her favorite, but shhh…don’t tell].

In the note, she mentioned speaking briefly with my sister Lori and my [late] Aunt Joy’s failing health, emphasizing her complete trust in God. She joked about her age, commented on not seeing my mom lately, and encouraged me to “keep working hard and praying much.”  She closed the letter with the familiar phrase, “Love you,” our reminder that we’re okay even if all isn’t right in the world.

Aunt Sac is no longer with us, but she still holds a special place in my heart. I pulled the card from my box of old letters earlier this year [for some reason?]; it was nice to run across it again this rainy Thursday. There’s so much history and sweetness in old letters.


About the Image: I was also intrigued by the card. I’m sure I paid little attention to the artwork in my youth, but I am pleased to [now] learn about Denise Legrix (1910-2010), a French writer and artist who painted by mouth. The artwork, entitled “Eglantine,” was produced from an original and  published by the Association of Handicapped Artists, Inc., which is no longer active. I think the work of that organization was picked up by the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists association. Eglantine [sweetbrier] is a type of wild rose. The scan does little justice to the luxurious card, which has the look and feel of an original painting.

Until tomorrow…

Woman | #WordlessWednesday

Ann Gardner, “Breathing,” 1996. Sand cast glass, silver leaf.

Where there is a woman there is magic. If there is a moon falling from her mouth, she is a woman who knows her magic, who can share or not share her powers. A woman with a moon falling from her mouth, roses between her legs and tiaras of Spanish moss, this woman is a consort of the spirits.  –Ntozake Shange, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo


About the image: Today’s image features the artwork of sculptor Ann Gardner. The piece, entitled “Breathing,” is part of the American Studio Glass collection, on continuous view at the Huntsville Museum of Art. The sculpture is so fierce and feminine that I couldn’t resist pairing it with Shange’s words.

Acquainted with the Night: A Painting and a Poem

“A Yorkshire Lane in November 1873,” by John Atkinson Grimshaw

#ThursdayTreeLove | Recollections

Recollections, Watercolor by Wanda A

It is difficult to realize how great a part of all that is cheerful and delightful in the recollections of our own life is associated with trees. –Wilson Flagg

I realize the image above isn’t a “real” tree, but this tree is special to me. Wanda, my sophomore year college roommate and brilliant art major, painted and gave the tree to me as a gift at some point before we parted ways–she to an art school in New York, me to an internship in Maryland.

The inspiration for this watercolor was a young tree that grew outside of our first floor dorm room. We often sat in our room with the window open and gazed at this tree. When alone, we contemplated and meditated. When together, we people-watched and discussed the trials and triumphs of life and love with our favorite tree always in view.

I looked for the tree almost seven years ago when I first returned to the campus as a professor; unfortunately, it is no longer there. I don’t even have a photograph, so I’m grateful my roomie and friend immortalized the tree through her artwork.

Wanda informed me that her daughter [corrected] is headed to our alma mater this fall [gasp]! Hopefully, she’ll find a special tree and much that is cheerful and delightful.


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.

Women | Words and Art III

We’ve reached the final post of our women’s words and art series. Today’s postcards are just as empowering and inspiring as the previous posts.

Artist: Cyla Costa

Talking back to the ideology that a woman’s place is in the kitchen or bedroom, this art speaks volumes:

A woman’s place is in the resistance.

I “designed” my own postcard featuring Hillary Clinton’s “famous” phrase a few years ago:

Women’s rights are human rights.  –Hilary Clinton, from her speech at the United Nations Fourth Conference on Women, Beijing China

And from [my forever] First Lady of the United States, the timeless instruction our mothers instilled in us when we were children–to never, ever stoop to “their” level:

When they go low, we go high.  –Michelle Obama, Democratic National Convention, 2016

Artist: Cyla Costa

Reinterpreting Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer,” Angela Davis‘ oft-repeated declaration is another call to become agents of change.

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept. –Angela Davis

Even though I want more, more, more revolutionary art, Davis’s quote provides an apt ending. After all, women’s issues can’t be resolved with pretty words and lettering. We’ve got to get up and do something too!

Some of us are traditional activists. We don’t mind taking to the streets and marching or sitting in. Some use writing–letters, poems, opinion pieces, books. Some use art. Some use social media and phone calls. Some choose to approach change through the way we rear our sons and daughters. It all works–as long as the goal is to cultivate a world that does not stifle or limit women’s and girls’ rights, full participation or agency.

If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, be sure to check them out. Then…

Let’s get to work!