Faith Ringgold Creates Stunning Textile Works
Faith Ringgold, a New York native, is an artist best known for her narrative quilts. Her experience in multiple different medias as well as her unique storytelling perspective make her work stand out from the crowd. A bold woman who doesn’t back down from what she believes in, she is also a well known activist for feminism and anti-racism.
History of Faith Ringgold
Faith was born in Harlem, New York City, in October of 1930. Her fashion designer mother and storyteller father raised her in an environment that encouraged creativity and expression. Growing up in Harlem during the Great Depression, she was surrounded by art in all forms, not just in her home. She lived just around the block from Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes, and her childhood friend Sonny Rollins grew up to be a prominent musician. Her asthma often kept her inside, where she learned sewing and drawing from her mother.
Faith tried to enroll in the City College of Art as an art major in 1950, but was not allowed to, as at that time women were only allowed to pursue certain, set majors. As such, she instead declared an art education major. She met and married jazz musician Robert Earl Wallace, with whom she had two children, but divorced him after four years because of his drug addiction. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1955 and soon after became a teacher in the New York City school system. In 1973, she quit teaching to devote her full time to art, which she still practices today.
Art of Faith Ringgold
Faith’s art portfolio is incredibly diverse. She began her career after college as a painter. Her geometric painted works borrow inspiration from authors, Impressionism, Cubism, and African art. During this time period, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s in the United States, systemic and institutionalized racism and implicit biases were running rampant in society. Although her images were stunning and received lots of positive attention, many galleries and collectors refused to buy them because they were uncomfortable with them. Her painting continued to grow in both technical quality and subject matter over many years. She questioned and blatantly addressed certain racial issues in the United States through her works, specifically from a woman’s perspective.
Faith began quilting a little later on in her career. She chose the textile arts to move away from the association of painting with European traditions. She quilted in the African American tradition as taught to her by her mother. Faith’s inspiration comes from many different places, but her main goal has always been to tell a story. At the time, no one would publish her autobiography. So she used quilts instead, so that when they were hung up and people looked at them, they would still be seeing her stories.
A trip to Europe in 1972 became one of the biggest influences on her mature art. Amsterdam‘s Rijksmuseum is cited as one of her biggest influences in her textile art. The museum displays a collection of 14th and 15th century paintings from Nepal, framed with cloth, called thangkas. These inspired her to introduce cloth borders to her paintings, which eventually evolved to working entirely in cloth.
Although most well known for her textile art, Faith Ringgold has also produced art in other media. She is known for her sculptures, performance art, and writing. She has written 17 children’s books. Faith has taught visual art the at University of California, San Diego, and has received twenty three honorary doctorates. Faith Ringgold School in Hayward, California was named for her. She has won over 80 awards, including the 2009 Peace Corps award. Her autobiography, We Flew Over the Bridge, was finally published in 1995. Currently, she lives in Englewood, New Jersey with her husband and continues a studio practice.