Ringgold, Faith 1930–

views updated May 17 2018

Faith Ringgold 1930

Painter, quiltmaker, sculptor, educator, writer

At a Glance

Found Her Own Voice

Became Politically Active

From Superrealism to Surrealism

Selected writings


On her storytelling quilt Tar Beach and in her self-illustrated childrens book of the same name, fiber artist Faith Ringgold depicts her eight-year-old heroine soaring above the clouds over Harlem, reveling in the joy and freedom of fantasy. Oblivious to her supernatural feat, the young girls family and neighbors play cards below, grounded on their tenement rooftop. The little girls domain dazzles the eye; seemingly without limit, it is truly a world of living color. Anyone can fly, she explains. All you need is somewhere to go that you cant get to any other way. The next thing you know, youre flying among the stars.

Although not strictly autobiographical, Ringgolds story quilts, as she calls them, are pieced together from fragments of the artists past. Assemblages of fantasy and fact, they embody a belief system basic to her personal philosophy. Anything is possible, Tar Beach tells us, with determination, discipline, and a little bit of magic.

If the artists professional life is any indication, Tar Beachs message is not merely a flight of fancy. Epitomizing the self-made woman, Ringgold is widely respected not only as an accomplished artist, but also as a spirited activist, who has effectively championed black and feminist causes. In her 25 years of professional activity, Ringgold has proven herself adept at navigating the stars.

Born in 1930, Faith Ringgold grew up in Harlem, not far from her current residence. She recalled her childhood as positive and uplifting in an interview with Eleanor Flomenhaft for Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey, speaking fondly of her fun-loving father and fashion designer mother, whom she views as a role model. My mother was a woman who knew how to take care of everything; her house, the kids. And she also had the time to develop her own skills, Ringgold told Flomenhaft. She was fabulous. In some ways, I try to be something like her.

Ringgold discovered art as a childa ready diversion from frequent attacks of asthma. She developed her skills as a young adult through formal training at the City College of New York, where she enrolled in 1950. City College gave Ringgold a solid technical foundation for her work but failed to provide stylistic inspiration. They taught us art in a traditional way, she told Flomenhaft. We copied Greek busts; we copied Degas; we copied everything. It was generally thought that we werent experienced enough to

At a Glance

Born October 8, 1930, in New York, NY; daughter of Andrew Louis, Sr., and Willi (a fashion designer; maiden name, Posey) Jones; married Robert Earl Wallace, 1950 (divorced, 1956); married Burdette Ringgold, May 19, 1962; children: (first marriage) Michele Faith, Barbara Faith. Education: City College of New York, B.S., 1955, M.A., 1959.

Multimedia artist; author. Taught art in New York City public schools, 1955-73; joined Spectrum Gallery, 1966; first one-person show, 1967; cofounder, Where We At black artists group, 1971; participant in first American Women Artists Show, Hamburg, Germany, 1972; ten-year retrospective, Voorhees Gallery, Rutgers University, 1973; 20-year retrospective, Studio Museum in Harlem, 1984; University of California at San Diego, visiting associate professor, 1984, professor, 1985; joined Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, New York City, 1986; story quilts exhibited in one-person show, 1987; solo retrospective, Simms Fine Art Gallery of New Orleans and four university museums, 1989; 13-museum tour of Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey, curated by Fine Art Museum of Long Island, 1990-93.

Awards: American Association of University Women Award for travel to Africa, 1976; National Endowment for the Arts awards, 1978, for sculpture, and 1989, for painting; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1987; New York Foundation for the Arts Award, 1988; Henry Clews Foundation Award for painting in the South of France, 1990; Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and Caldecott Honor Book Award, both 1992, for Tar Beach.

Addresses: Home La Jolla, CA, and New York, NY. Dealer Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, 132 Greene St., New York, NY 10012. Agent (literary) Marie Brown Associates, Room 902, 625 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

be original, and if we were original we were sometimes up for ridicule. Unable to identify with dead art from dead times, she began a search for an aesthetic that more closely reflected her sense of selfa black aesthetic.

Found Her Own Voice

After her graduation in 1955, Ringgold assumed a teaching post in the New York City public school system, a position she would retain until 1973. Through the teaching of children, she gained a freedom of expression that would become characteristic of her style. I attribute a lot of my learning to paint to teaching children, she admitted in David Irvings video Faith Ringgold: The Last Story Quilt.

By 1959 Ringgold had completed a masters degree in art at City College, and she continued her search for a personal aesthetic. Though she traveled throughout Europe during the 1960s, Ringgold found her inspiration in African art, particularly in its symmetry, repetition, pattern-making and polyrhythms, she noted in the video. Ringgold copied works of African art to learn about design, and she eventually created her own distinctive style. I would mix European training with my African originsand that would be my American art, she explained. My art became not African art, but African-American art... an expression of African-American, female experience. Ringgold dubbed this phase of her work superrealistic.

Became Politically Active

The civil rights era gave rise to a distinctly black art movement that focused on the human conditioncontrary to the abstract postmodern trend that had previously dominated the art scene in the United States. Black artists synthesized a new stylistic language from the African-American experience, creating a new dimension in American art, said Barry E. Gaither, museum director for the National Center of Afro-American Artists, in an interview with Ebony magazine. Black art... has kept American art conscious of the ways in which art is inspired by the human struggle.

Ringgold readily found her niche in the budding movement, developing a political voice that would be evident in her work for years to come. Exploring the timely issues of race, class, and gender in her superrealist style, she created a series of paintings incorporating politically potent images that Lowery Sims, associate curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called American icons. The power of her images was to be found in their stylization. I wanted people to feel that they were looking at themselves, Ringgold told Flomenhaft. I wanted it to be realistic, but I also knew that in order for me to paint black people in the way that I needed to, they had to have a certain abstract quality. That was when I decided I would not paint chiaroscuro, painting light and shade... and thats also when I began painting flat.

The expression of Ringgolds concern with issues of race and gender was not limited to the canvas. During the late 1960s, she became known as a black feminist activist, lobbying for fair representation in New York Citys major museums of modern art. In 1968 Ringgold initiated the first demonstration of black artists at the Whitney Museum, and in 1970 she participated in demonstrations of the Ad Hoc Womens Art Group there. The next year, she cofounded the black artists group Where We At.

By 1972 Ringgold had established a name for herself in international art circles, participating in the first American Women Artists Show in Hamburg, Germany. And back home at New Yorks Museum of Modern Art, Ringgold was at the forefront of a movement to create a wing for the work of African-American artists. That effort resulted in the addition of two black members to the museums board of trustees and two major exhibitions of work by African-Americans.

From Superrealism to Surrealism

Around the same time, Ringgold made her first foray into the medium of fiberinspired by tankas, Tibetan paintings framed in cloth. Throughout the 1970s she explored this medium further in a series of politically motivated soft sculptures. The artist later used these works in her masked interpretive performances, which were staged throughout the United States and abroad. And by the early 1980s, Ringgold was making her first story quilts.

Literally speaking for themselves, the story quilts incorporate written narratives into vibrant collages of fabric. Ringgold paints images and accompanying text directly onto the fabric, making the quilt her canvas. The story quilts grew out of my need to tell stories not with pictures or symbols alone, but with words, noted the artist in Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey. That need was rooted in a strong oral tradition that was both cultural and personal. Ringgold grew up surrounded by storytellers. Her father did his public speaking in the bar, she said in Irvings video. He told stories, my mother told stories, everybody told stories.

Ringgolds attraction to quiltmaking was inspired in part by her mother, Willi Posey, a fashion designer with whom she would collaborate on many fiber projects. It also grew out of a tradition of quiltmaking in the African-American community. The African-American woman is credited with the beginning of quiltmaking in America, Ringgold explained in Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey. Drawing on her African heritage, she has always fashioned her quilts with care, making their exquisite design and craftsmanship worthy of emulation.

In keeping with that tradition, Ringgold labored over her quilts, creating decorative works that radiated a surreal whimsy. Although seemingly fanciful, Ringgolds quilts tell tales of a serious natureexploring the political issues that have always been at the heart of her work. She began tackling those issues with a lighter touch in her later works. In the Women on a Bridge series, for example, Ringgold depicts her women in flight, drawing on a traditional African-American metaphor for freedom. Conquering bridges from New York to San Francisco, they exude an air of joyous celebration, undaunted by the enormity of their targets. The bridge idea was significant to me, Ringgold told Flomenhaft. The Women on a Bridge series centers on womens courage, women doing great creative, exciting things, which I paralleled with the painting of a bridge.

In 1988 Tar Beach the first of the Women on a Bridge seriesmade its debut at New York Citys Bemice Steinbaum Gallery. Andrea Cascardi, an editor at Crown Books for Young Readers, saw a poster of the piece and was attracted to its potential as a picture book for children of all ages. Ringgold was more than amenable to the idea. Her story quilts, in fact, were born of the desire to publish.

Telling my stories on quilts seemed an excellent opportunity to get my work published without dealing with publishers, editors or anyone else, she explained to Publishers Weekly. Anyone who saw my art would automatically get the story as well.

The publication of the book Tar Beach in 1991 represents only the most recent addition to an impressive resume. Since the mid-1980s Ringgold has distinguished herself as a professor of art at the University of California at San Diego. She has also been in demand for commissioned work and currently has pieces in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the High Museum of Atlanta, as well as in corporate and private collections.

Selected writings

Being My Own Woman (part one of autobiography), published in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, edited by Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka, Morrow, 1983.

Tar Beach (self-illustrated childrens book), Crown, 1991. Aunt Harriets Underground Railroad in the Sky (self-illustrated childrens book), Crown, 1993.



Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey, edited by Eleanor Flomenhaft, Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, 1990.

Miller, Lynn, and Sally S. Swenson, Lives and Works: Talks with Women Artists, Simon & Schuster, 1981.

Ringgold, Faith, Tar Beach, Crown, 1991.


American Craft, February/March 1989.

Ann Arbor News, March 29, 1992.

Art in America, January 1991.

ARTnews, February 1989.

Ebony, August 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, February 8, 1991.

Instructor, May/June 1991.

Life, June 1989.

New York, February 18, 1991.

New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991.

Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1991.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the video Faith Ringgold: The Last Story Quilt, written and edited by David Irving, 1990.

Nina Goldstein

Ringgold, Faith 1930–

views updated Jun 27 2018

Ringgold, Faith 1930–


Born October 8, 1930, in New York, NY; daughter of Andrew Louis Jones, Sr. and Willi Jones; married Robert Earl Wallace (a jazz pianist), 1950 (divorced, 1956); married Burdette Ringgold, May 19, 1962; children: (first marriage) Barbara, Michele. Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.S. (fine art and education), 1955, M.A. (art), 1959.


Home—La Jolla, CA; New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected].


Painter, mixed-media sculptor, muralist, performance artist, and writer. Art teacher in public schools, New York, NY, 1955-73; teacher at Bank Street College, Pratt Institute, and Wagner College, beginning 1970; University of California, San Diego, visiting associate professor, beginning 1984, professor of art until 2002, now emeritus. Visiting lecturer and artist at art centers, universities, and museums, including Mills College, 1987, Museum of Modern Art, 1988, University of West Florida, 1989, San Diego Museum, 1990, Museum of African American Art, 1991, and Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1992. Artist-in-residence at Wilson College, 1976. Cofounder, Where We At (black artist group), 1971. Performer at colleges, universities, and museums, beginning 1977. Exhibitions: Work exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world. Solo shows include Spectrum Gallery, New York, NY, 1967, 1970; Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, 1987, 1989, 1992; Studio Museum in Harlem, 1990; Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, 1994; Cairo Biennial, 1994; Fine Arts Museum of Long Island (touring retrospective), 1990-93; Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, 1996; and Pompidou Center, Paris, France, 1996; Akron Museum, 1998; Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA, 2005. Works included in public and private collections, including Boston Museum of Fine Art, Chase Manhattan Bank Collection, Clark Museum, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, High Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Newark Museum, Columbia University, Phillip Morris Collection, and Studio Museum in Harlem. Mural installations at 125th St. IRT subway station platform, New York, NY.

Awards, Honors

Creative Artists Public Service Award, 1971; American Association of University Women Award for travel to Africa, 1976; National Endowment for the Arts Awards, 1978, 1989; Candace Award, One Hundred Black Women, 1986; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 1987; New York Foundation for the Arts Award, 1988; La Napoule Award, 1989; Henry Clews Foundation Award, 1990; Best Illustrated Book designation, New York Times, and Parent's Choice Award for Picture Book, Parent's Choice Foundation, both 1991, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, American Library Association (ALA), Caldecott Honor Book Award, ALA, and Children's Books of Distinction citation, Hungry Mind Review, all 1992, and Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, New York Public Library, 1993, all for Tar Beach; Jane Addams Picture Book Award, Jane Addams Peace Association, 1993, for Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky; Townsend Harris Medal, City College of New York Alumni Association, 1995; New Jersey Artist of the Year Award, 1997; NAACP Image Award for Best Children's Book, 2000, for If a Bus Could Talk; Women of Distinction Award, New York Chapter Continental Societies, Inc., 2000; Dedicators Award, 2001; California Art Educators Association Living Artists Award, 2002; National Visionary Leadership Project Award, 2004; Moore College of Art and Design Visionary Women Award, 2005; Amistad Center for Art and Culture Presidents Award, 2005; James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art honor, 2006; Harlem Arts Alliance Golden Legacy Visual Arts Award, 2006. Honorary D.F.A. from Moore College of Art, 1986, College of Wooster, 1987, Massachusetts College of Art, 1991, City College of the City University of New York, 1991, Brockport State University, 1992, California College of Arts and Crafts, 1993, Russell Sage College, 1996, Parsons School of Design, 1996, Wheelock College, 1997, Marymount Manhattan College, 1999, and Chicago Institute of the Arts, 2001. Honorary D. Phil. from Molloy College, 1997; honorary D.H.L. from Bank Street College of Education, 1999, Marygrove College, 2000, and William Patterson University, 2001.



Tar Beach, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.

Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.

Dinner at Aunt Connie's House, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1993.

My Dream of Martin Luther King, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.

Bonjour, Lonnie, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.

The Invisible Princess, Crown (New York, NY), 1998.

If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.

Counting to Tar Beach (board-book; based on Tar Beach), Crown (New York, NY), 2000.

Cassie's Colorful Day (board-book; based on Tar Beach), Crown (New York, NY), 2000.

Cassie's Word Quilt, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.


O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem (included CD), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Zora Neal Hurston, reteller, The Three Witches, adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Gwendolyn Brooks, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, new edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of illustrations to anthologies, including Jump Back, Honey: The Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.


Faith Ringgold: A 25-Year Survey (catalog), Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, 1990.

We Flew over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

(With Linda Freeman and Nancy Roucher) Talking to Faith Ringgold, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.

Work included in anthologies such as Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka, editors, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983. Contributor of articles, essays, and short stories to numerous periodicals, including Artpaper, Heresies, Women's Art Journal, Women's Artists News, Feminist Art Journal, Arts, and Art Gallery Guide. Work represented in exhibition catalogs, including Faith Ringgold Change: Painted Story Quilts, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, 1987, and The French Collection, BMOW Press, 1992.


One of the leading African-American artists of her generation, Faith Ringgold is perhaps best known for her beautifully created and intricately designed story quilts. A writer and illustrator, she blends her talents for painting and quilt-making with a natural storyteller's sense of rhythm to create imaginative picture books for children, such as The Invisible Princess, Bonjour, Lonnie, and the Caldecott Honor Award-winning Tar Beach. Ringgold combines elements of African-American history and culture within her vibrant palette, celebrating women of color in Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky and Dinner at Aunt Connie's House and

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

profiling the life of celebrated civil-rights leaders in My Dream of Martin Luther King and If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks. A widely respected and accomplished painter, mixed-media sculptor, performance artist, and educator, Ringgold explained to Eleanor Flomenhaft in Faith Ringgold: A 25-Year Survey: "I'm a painter who works in the quilt medium; and that I sew on my painting doesn't make it less of a painting; and that it's made into a quilt does not make it not a painting. It's still a painting."

Growing up in New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Ringgold was the youngest of three children born to Andrew Louis Jones, Sr., a sanitation department truck driver, and Willi Posey Jones, a talented dressmaker who developed a career as a fashion designer during the 1940s. Except for periodic bouts with asthma, Ringgold's childhood was very much like that of her friends and neighbors: She attended the local public elementary and high schools, played with schoolmates, listened to music, and lived the life of the average New York City child. She also learned to work with fabrics at her mother's side, and often visited the many great museums located in New York City. "I was always the class artist," Ringgold later recalled. "I drew and painted constantly. That was a natural thing to me—making pictures and pieces of art. I cannot remember a time I did not do that."

In 1948 Ringgold enrolled at the City College of the City University of New York, declaring a major in art. During her studies, she learned a great deal about African-American art and her own creative talents began to develop and shine. While her instructors provided a sound technical education, Ringgold also studied independently. "I researched African—my own art, the classical art form of Black people—on my own," she once explained to SATA. "I really taught myself because there were no courses being taught on African art and artists…. I had to get my education [and] then I had to get my reeducation which was what I gave myself."

Political though traditional in technique, Ringgold's early work consisted of oil paintings done on stretch canvas. By the end of the 1960s, her paintings began to reflect her passion for African art and her desire to more accurately express her ethnicity. Both influenced by and involved in the civil rights movement of this era, Ringgold began to vigorously explore issues of race, class, and gender in her work. In 1972 her art underwent another major change in focus: from painting in oils on stretch canvas she turned to creating paintings on canvas that were framed in fabric and quilted.

On a trip to Holland, Ringgold visited museums where she was introduced to Tibetan and Nepalese tankas—paintings framed in cloth that dated back to the fourteenth century. Desiring to bring her art to greater numbers of people, Ringgold began experimenting with this tanka form in her own work. Tapping her mother's tal- ent for sewing, Ringgold began painting on canvases that her mother framed in cloth, thereby producing her own tankas. By the 1980s, this technique had led Ringgold to create the first of the innovative story quilts for which she has become so well known.

After seeing one of Ringgold's story quilts from her "A Woman on a Bridge" series, Andrea Cascardi, an editor at Crown Publishers, approached the artist with the idea of adapting the quilt titled "Tar Beach" into an illustrated book for children. At first, Ringgold could not envision this work—which depicts an eight-year-old girl lying on the tarpaper rooftop of a Harlem apartment dreaming of flying—as the subject material for a children's book. Eventually, she was persuaded, however, and the result was her first book, Tar Beach.

Elaborating on the idea from Ringgold's original story quilt, Tar Beach tells the story of the hopes and dreams of eight-year-old Cassie, who imagines being able to travel wherever she wants, whenever she wants. One night, while lying on the rooftop of the building where she and her family live, Cassie is lifted up by the stars and soars above the clouds of her Harlem apartment building. As her family, neighbors, and friends play cards on the rooftop below, the young girl glides through the dark sky where she is treated to a dazzling world of color that inspires a tremendous sense of freedom and joy.

"Few picture books are as visually dazzling or as poetically immediate as this story," Michele Landsberg stated in an Entertainment Weekly review of Tar Beach. Calling the artist's text "fresh, direct, and poignant," Landsberg added that Ringgold's "full-page paintings vibrate with ravishing colors" to create an "exhilarating celebration of a child's life in the city. In New York magazine, Corky Pollan remarked that in Tar Beach Ringgold "has created a children's book that is magical and inspiring" and that "explodes with the artist's exuberant pictures." In Horn Book Nancy Vasilakis commented that the author/illustrator's "allegorical tale sparkles with symbolic and historical references central to African American culture." Viewing the book as more universal in scope, New York Times Book Review critic Rosellen Brown wrote of Tar Beach: "It's hard to imagine a child who wouldn't willingly imagine something—a place, a tough spot, a hard life or a high ambition—worth flying out of or into. Fortunately [the story is] not exclusive: it's not only for African Americans, or girls, or even—I'll testify—for children."

In Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky Ringgold again uses the motif of flying to freedom. Be Be, the baby brother from Tar Beach, is central to this fantasy story. Out flying with Cassie, Be Be jumps aboard a nineteenth-century train operated by abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Left behind, Cassie follows the underground railway and is guided by Aunt Harriet to freedom in Canada. Reunited with his sister, Be Be confides that it is wonderful to be together again, but being free is most important of all. Kate McClelland, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, wrote that, "with gripping immediacy, Ringgold puts [her] readers … on the side of the victims, insuring, through powerful words and images, ‘that we will never forget the cost of freedom.’" As Enola G. Aird declared in the New York Times Book Review, "I look forward to Cassie's next trip."

Cassie returns in several other books by Ringgold, including the concept books Counting to Tar Beach and Cassie's Colorful Day. A more complex book, Cassie's Word Quilt once again finds the girl sailing among the stars, this time with her brother. Together, the children float above their New York City neighborhood, where their block, street, school, home, and bedroom come together in an intricate pattern composed of Ringgold's unique images. In Booklist, Wilms described Cassie's Word Quilt as "vibrant and friendly," while in School Library Journal Jane Marino wrote that the book serves young readers as "a lesson in the history and culture of New York City, [c.] 1939."

Ringgold's next trip into children's picture books resulted in Dinner at Aunt Connie's House, another tale inspired by one of her story quilts. The book introduces young Melody and her adopted male cousin Lonnie. In their attic, Melody and Lonnie discover twelve portraits of famous African-American women, including one of Harriet Tubman. Each picture tells the children a different story and inspires them to follow their dreams to become what they want to be. Melody is determined to become president of the United States while Lonnie knows that opera is his calling. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the "heart" of Dinner at Aunt Connie's House "is at once a magical and a ringing affirmation of [each woman's] … achievements."

Lonnie appears again in Bonjour, Lonnie, which recounts the young boy's long journey to France to find his roots. Lonnie discovers that his grandfather went to France during World War I and married a French woman while there. He also learns about his parents, discovering that his father died in World War II and that his Jewish mother gave him up for adoption just before the Nazis tracked her down. Back at Aunt Connie's house, Lonnie finds his real home.

In My Dream of Martin Luther King Ringgold emphasizes the power of dreams, both literal and metaphorical. The young narrator dreams of Dr. King and imagines the joys and pain of the civil-rights leader's own youth. She also experiences King's famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington, DC, as well as the events that led to his tragic death. In the end, she sees people replacing their prejudices with King's vision of a peaceful biracial world. A Publishers Weekly critic concluded in a review of the work that, as Ringgold's young narrator awakens, "we share with her a powerful message: EVERY GOOD THING STARTS WITH A DREAM."

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Also based on a story quilt, The Invisible Princess is at once both fairy tale and history, resulting in "an evocative, if mystifying picture book," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In the book, Mama and Papa Love, both slaves, fear that their unborn child will be sold by the plantation owner, Captain Pepper. When their beautiful daughter is born, they beg the Great Lady of Peace to save her from slavery. Their wish is granted, and just after birth the baby is taken away by the Prince of Night and made invisible to all but the blind daughter of the slave master. The Invisible Princess ultimately saves her parents and the other plantation slaves, helping them to find happiness in the invisible village of Peace, Freedom, and Love. In Booklist GraceAnne A. DeCandido called Ringgold's artwork for The Invisible Princess "gorgeous," and Rudine Sims Bishop wrote in Horn Book that the author/illustrator's "serious … literary fairy tale" presents "Ringgold at her best as a picture book artist."

In addition to creating original texts, Ringgold has also paired her art with works by noted women writers of color, such as Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks. First published in 1956 and re-leased seven years after Brooks's death, the collection features thirty-four poems—each named after a different child—that bring to life the world of children living in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. Noting that Ringgold "wisely sets her pictures" in the authentic mid-twentieth-century era, Susan Dove Lempke wrote in Horn Book that the artist's acrylic paintings nonetheless inject the verses with "new life and energy." Noting that the original illustrations, by Ronni Solbert, depicted white children, Grace Oliff remarked on the integrity of this new edition; "Ringgold's trademark, vibrantly colored, stylized art features children of color," the critic explained.

The work of early twentieth-century folklorist Zora Neale Hurston is introduced to new generations in The Three Witches, a story first published in 1930 that finds three hungry long-toothed crones going in search of two young, plump siblings. Featuring a text adaptation by Joyce Carol Thomas, The Three Witches benefits from "Ringgold's homespun painting style," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. The book's illustrations, with their "thick black lines and vibrant colors, reflect both the comic exaggeration and the shivery action," concluded Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman, praising The Three Witches as "a fast, fun, but also scary tale."

Retired as a professor of art in 2002, Ringgold maintains a busy schedule as an artist, activist, and writer. As she noted in her memoir, We Flew over the Bridge: "My books are … about children having dreams, and instilling in them a belief that they can change things. All good things start with a dream."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art, and Society, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1990.

Davis, Marianna W., Contributions of Black Women to America: The Arts, Kenday, 1982.

Farrington, Lisa E., Art on Fire: The Politics of Race and Sex in the Paintings of Faith Ringgold, Millennium Fine Arts Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.

Faith Ringgold: A 25-Year Survey, Fine Arts Museum of Long Island (Long Island, NY), 1990.

Miller, Lynn, and Sally S. Swenson, Lives and Works: Talks with Women Artists, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.

Munro, Eleanor, Originals: American Women Artists, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1979, pp. 409-416.

Ringgold, Faith, We Flew over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

Sills, Leslie, Inspirations: Stories of Women Artists for Children, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1988, pp. 40-51.

Slatkin, Wendy, Women Artists in History: From Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, 2nd edition, Prentice-Hall, 1990, pp. 190-192.

Witzling, Mara R., editor, Voicing Our Visions: Writings by Women Artists, Universe, 1991.


Booklist, February 1, 1992, review of Tar Beach, p. 1037; March 15, 1992, review of Tar Beach, p. 1367; November 1, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, p. 511; September 15, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of Dinner at Aunt Connie's House, p. 160; February 15, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of My Dream of Martin Luther King, p. 1024; October 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Bonjour, Lonnie, p. 359; December 1, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Invisible Princess, p. 672; January 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks, p. 934; March 1, 2002, Denise Wilms, review of Cassie's Word Quilt, p. 1144; June 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of The Three Witches, p. 78; February 1, 2007, Jennifer Mattson, review of Bronzeville Boys and Girls, p. 58.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1991, review of Tar Beach, p. 175; December, 1992, review of Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, p. 121; January, 1996, review of My Dream of Martin Luther King, p. 169; March, 1999, review of The Invisible Princess, p. 255; November, 2006, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Three Witches, p. 128.

Entertainment Weekly, February 8, 1991, Michele Landsberg, "Up on the Roof and on to the ‘Beach,’" pp. 68-69.

Horn Book, May-June, 1991, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Tar Beach, p. 322; March-April, 1999, Rudine Sims Bishop, "Heaven Is Three African American Literary Folktales," pp. 180-181; May-June, 1996, Ellen Fader, review of My Dream of Martin Luther King, p. 351; January-February, 2007, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Bronzeville Boys and Girls, p. 79.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of Cassie's Word Quilt, p. 1689; November 1, 2004, review of O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem, p. 1053; July 15, 2006, review of The Three Witches, p. 723.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 24, 1991, review of Tar Beach, p. 8.

New York, February 18, 1991, Corky Pollan, review of Tar Beach, p. 56.

New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991, Rosellen Brown, review of Tar Beach, p. 30; February 21, 1993, Enola G. Aird, review of Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1991, review of Tar Beach, pp. 61-62; August 16, 1993, review of Dinner at Aunt Connie's House, p. 104; January 1, 1996, review of My Dream of Martin Luther King, p. 70; November 23, 1998, review of The Invisible Princess, p. 67; November 15, 1999, review of If a Bus Could Talk, p. 66; August 15, 2006, review of The Three Witches, p. 205.

School Library Journal, December, 1992, Kate McClelland, review of Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, pp. 88, 90; July, 1996, review of Tar Beach, p. 311; December, 1998, Barbara Scotto, review of The Invisible Princess, p. 89; January, 2000, Marie Orlando, review of If a Bus Could Talk, p. 126; February, 2002, Jane Marino, review of Cassie's Word Quilt, p. 112; August, 2006, Nina Lindsay, review of The Three Witches, p. 105; February, 2007, Grace Oliff, review of Bronzeville Boys and Girls, p. 105.


Faith Ringgold Home Page,http://www.faithringgold.com (March 15, 2008).

Faith Ringgold Web log,http://faithringgold.blogspot.com (March 15, 2008).

Faith Ringgold

views updated May 29 2018

Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold (born 1930) was known for paintings, sculpture, and performances which expressed her experience as an Afro-American woman.

Faith Ringgold was born Faith Jones on October 8, 1930, in Harlem Hospital, New York City, the daughter of city truck driver Louis Jones and Willi Posey Jones, a dress designer. She lived all her life in Harlem, where she studied education at the City College of New York in the 1950s. Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Robert Gwathmey, two exponents of figurative painting at that time, were her teachers. Ringgold taught art in the New York City public school system from her graduation until 1973. Married twice, she had two daughters and divided her time between New York and a teaching position at the University of California at San Diego after the mid-1970s.

In the early 1960s Ringgold began to make overtly political paintings, in part inspired by reading James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka (then Le Roi Jones), who wrote of their lives as black men within a white American culture. She made a series of paintings entitled The American People, followed by the mural The Flag Is Bleeding and a large painting, U.S. Postage Stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power, which consisted of 100 frames of human faces cropped to reveal only eyes and noses. Presented in a grid, like a sheet of postage stamps, ten percent of the faces were black, reflecting the percentage of black Americans in the population at large. In the early 1970s Ringgold completed a series of Slave Rape paintings in which female figures, the victims of rape, were presented in lush brocade frames, inspired by Tibetan wall hangings. All her work of this period was figurative, executed in a simplified, cubist-like style which Ringgold claimed to be a derivation of African art.

By the mid-1970s she was making masks, heads of women she had known, which then evolved into large full size portraits made of stuffed fabric entitled The Harlem Series. These were of prominent Harlem residents such as politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, as well as southerner Martin Luther King, Jr., who was by then dead. Her mother helped her sew these portrait-sculptures made of foam rubber, coconut heads and yarn wigs, which later became props and characters in performances she created in collaboration with her two daughters, who wrote stories and scripts. In 1981 Ringgold made an assemblage sculpture about the chain of slayings of Black children in Atlanta, Georgia, in which she placed small stuffed figures bound in wire, each with the name and photo of a victim, against a white background, suggesting a chess board on which the children were pawns.

Later she made a series of narrative quilts, in appreciation of traditional women's handiwork, which contain pictures accompanied by texts telling their stories. One is titled "Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima?" and another "Street Story," which tells the story of a ghetto boy who goes through a series of family tragedies to finally become a wealthy writer in Hollywood, accompanied by pictures of the physical decline of the apartment building in which he grew up. She also worked on performances to accompany her story quilts.

Throughout her career as an artist Faith Ringgold was always politically involved in black and feminist issues. In 1966 she participated in the first black art exhibition in Harlem after its renaissance in the 1930s along with Romare Bearden, Ernie Crichlow, Norman Lewis, and Betty Blayton. In 1968 she joined the Art Workers' Coalition with critic Lucy Lippard and sculptor Carl Andre and demonstrated for the inclusion of Afro-American artists in exhibitions and purchases by major New York museums. In 1970 she participated in the Ad Hoc Woman's Art Group, which successfully pressured the Whitney Museum of American Art to include for the first time in its history the work of two black women artists—Barbara Chase-Riboud and Betye Saar—in its Sculpture Biennial. During that same year she was arrested for organizing "The People's Flag Show" at the Judson Church, which protested against laws governing the use of the image of the American flag. In 1985 she participated in the Guerrilla Girls all-woman exhibition at the Palladium in New York.

Although she always lived in New York and was knowledgable about contemporary art, Ringgold's work, like her life in Harlem, remained decidedly apart from what was generally considered mainstream American art. Because she was intent on using her life experience as a black woman living in a black subculture as the basis for her work, she was often overlooked or excluded by the art establishment, which was primarily white and male and whose aesthetics most often express these characteristics either directly or indirectly. This was especially true in the late 1960s when abstract art was the prominent manifestation of the notion of mainstream art.

The political ferment of the late 1960s caused considerable upheaval in the New York art world, and many artists collectively demanded that public institutions and museums expand their programs to include a broader range of art, to show and purchase artwork by artists outside the "mainstream." New galleries opened, often publically funded, whose intention was not to sell or buy art but to show significant art that existed outside of the established system of commercial galleries and museums, which were often closed to outsiders.

Faith Ringgold participated in many of these protest activities and usually showed her work in alternative places. In 1967 and 1970 she had one-person shows at Spectrum Gallery in New York, an artist-run gallery in which she was the first black to participate. She was the subject of a ten-year retrospective exhibition at Rutgers University in 1973 and of a 20-year retrospective at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1984 and at the College of Wooster Art Museum in 1985.

She received numerous awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Award in 1987, and the Moore College of Fine Art's Honorary Doctorate Award in 1986. In 1991 Crown Press published her book Tar Beach, which she wrote and illustrated, and the following year published her book Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in The Sky.

Further Reading

While there is no complete monograph on her work, a short catalog was published in conjunction with her show at the College of Wooster titled Faith Ringgold: Painting, Sculpture, Performance (1985). Chapters about her were included in Lucy Lippard's From the Center (1976) and in Eleanor Munro's Originals: American Women Artists (1979). Ringgold published an essay, "Being My Own Woman," in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women (1983), edited by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Amina Baraka, and has been included in many documentary videotapes, including "Art Protest Movement," made by the Archives of American Art and the Smithsonian Institution, and "Black Artists in America," made by Oakley Holmes, Jr. Perhaps because of her position as an outsider in the art world and due to the fact that most of her exhibitions and performances have happened outside of established galleries and museums, critical response to her work is found in the general press rather than in art magazines. Articles on Faith Ringgold have appeared in The Washington Post (1979), Ms. Magazine (1979), the Village Voice (1981), the New York Times Magazine (1982), and the Christian Science Monitor (1984). □