October 8, 1930
Born in Harlem, painter and sculptor Faith Ringgold was one of three children of Andrew Louis Jones Sr. and Willi Posey Jones, a fashion designer. She was married to Robert Earl Wallace, a pianist, from 1950 to 1956 and had two daughters in 1952: writer Michele Wallace (author of the 1970s feminist classic Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman ) and Barbara, a linguist. Ringgold graduated from City College, New York, in 1955, and taught art in New York public schools until 1973. In 1959 she received a master's degree, also from City College. She began spending summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1957, took her first trip to Europe in 1961, and married Burdette Ringgold in 1962.
Ringgold's work and life exemplify her interests in civil rights and feminism. Some of her early paintings, such as The Flag Is Bleeding (1967), are large with stylized figures; others are abstract, like Flag for the Moon, Die Nigger (1969). Her radical use of potent national symbols, such as the flag and, later, postage stamps and maps, fiercely counterpointed American values with their ingrained racism. To achieve greater recognition for blacks and women in the mainstream art world, Ringgold participated in demonstrations at the Whitney Museum (1968, 1970) and at the Museum of Modern Art (1968). She was a cofounder in 1971 of Where We At, a group of black women artists. The following year she created a mural at the Women's House of Detention in New York that used only images of women.
The women's movement and Ringgold's close relationship with her mother influenced her to begin using fabrics, traditionally a women's medium, to express her art. She began to make masks and dolls—soft sculptures. Her mother made the dolls' clothes. They portray, among others, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the murdered children of Atlanta (the Atlanta child murder cases of 1979–1982), and various people in the community. Some of Ringgold's paintings were bordered in tankas, cloth frames made by her mother. Ringgold and her mother also collaborated on the production of Sew Real doll kits in 1979.
Ringgold then began working in the medium that brought her acclaim, story quilts. The first, Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1983), is a visual narrative of a woman restaurateur in painting, text, and patchwork. The quilts' stories vividly raise the issues of racism and feminism. As the stories became more complex, Ringgold began to create multiple quilts to encompass them. Each consists of a large painted panel bordered by printed patches pieced together, with text at the bottom or in the body of the quilt. The quilt series include The Bitter Nest (1988), Woman on the Bridge (1988), and The French Connection (1991). Ringgold used one of her quilts as the basis for her first children's book, Tar Beach, which was a Caldecott Honor Book and received the Coretta Scott King Award in 1992. Ringgold has authored a dozen more books for children. The original quilt was acquired by the Guggenheim Museum.
Ringgold's numerous awards include a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (1989), Warner Communications' Wonder Woman (1983), and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women's Candace Award (1986). She holds honorary degrees from Moore College of Art, the College of Wooster, Ohio, the City College of New York, as well as from thirteen other colleges or universities. A twenty-five-year retrospective of her work traveled from 1990 to 1993. Beginning in 1984 Ringgold taught at the University of California at San Diego, spending half of each year there, before retiring in 2002. Ringgold began the Anyone Can Fly Foundation in an effort to broaden the canon of the art establishment to include artists from the African diaspora and to introduce their works to both children and adults. To this end, the foundation offers grants to scholars and educators whose work will invigorate publishing and teaching about African-American artists. A series of paintings, titled Faith's Garden Party #1, 2, and 3, documents the launch of the foundation.
Ringgold's designs from Street Story Quilt (1985) were selected by Judith Lieber for a limited edition of jeweled evening bags. She designed a mosaic mural for the 125th Street subway station in Manhattan. A painted quilt adorns the atrium of Hostos Community College in the Bronx. Numerous private collections and institutions hold her quilts and paintings. Her works have been acquired by the High Museum in Atlanta, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Newark Museum in New Jersey, among others.
Ringgold's lengthy and prolific career shows no sign of slowing down as she plans new creations and administers the Anyone Can Fly Foundation.
Farrington, Lisa E. Faith Ringgold. San Francisco, Calif.: Pomegranate, 2004.
Flomenhaft, Eleanor. Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey. Hempstead, N.Y.: Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, 1990.
Moore, Sylvia. Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists. New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1989.
Ringgold, Faith. We Flew over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.
betty kaplan gubert (1996)
Updated by author 2005