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"Faith Ringgold: An American Artist" to open at the Crocker Art Museum
Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930), We Came to America, 1998. Color etching 1/15, 15 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches © 2018 Faith Ringgold, member Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.


SACRAMENTO, CA.- On February 18, 2018, the Crocker Art Museum will bring to Sacramento Faith Ringgold: An American Artist, an exhibition of Ringgold’s famous story quilts, tankas (inspired by thangkas, Tibetan textile paintings), oil paintings, prints, drawings, masks, sculptures, and original illustrations from the artist’s award-winning book Tar Beach.

While Ringgold's work has been featured in a Sacramento gallery show before, the Crocker's exhibition brings together more than 40 examples of Ringgold’s varied production spanning several decades, from the 1960s through the first years of the current century. The works on view highlight themes of family life, relationships, and jazz music, as well as race and the history of slavery in America.

“Faith Ringgold has long been an important voice about the discrimination felt by many artists of color, women, and other minorities,” said Crocker Art Museum Director and CEO, Lial Jones. “In addition to highlighting stories that must be heard, she creates engaging work that speaks to all, and I am delighted that we are bringing her art back to Sacramento for the public to view.”

Faith Ringgold has been telling her story through art for over half a century. Best known for her “story quilts,” Ringgold is also a painter, mixed-media sculptor, performance artist, activist, author, and teacher.

The youngest of four children, Ringgold was born in Harlem, New York, in 1930 — just six months after her 18-month-old brother died of pneumonia. Named Faith as a symbol of healing and hope, the artist recalls her childhood as “the most wonderful period ... until now.” She was surrounded by imaginative people and spent much of her youth cultivating her own creativity. Faith’s father was a gifted storyteller, and her mother a successful fashion designer. Because of her chronic asthma, Ringgold passed much time indoors, coloring with crayons, sewing, and working with her mother’s fabrics.

Describing her youth, Faith said, “I grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression. This did not mean I was poor and oppressed. We were protected from oppression and surrounded by a loving family.” Ringgold’s parents made sure their children experienced the vibrant cultural happenings of the Harlem Renaissance. Neighbors included future legends like Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes. Faith’s childhood friend, Sonny Rollins, who would himself become an influential jazz musician, often visited and played his saxophone.

In the 1950s, Ringgold completed a bachelor’s degree in fine art and education and a master’s degree in art at the City College of New York. “I got a fabulous education in art — wonderful teachers who taught me everything except anything about African art or African American art. But I traveled and took care of that part myself.” She had two daughters with her husband, jazz and classical pianist Robert Earl Wallace, but was divorced after four years.

The following decade held several turning points for the artist. Ringgold traveled to Europe, visiting museums in Paris, Florence, and Rome. In 1962, she married Burdette “Birdie” Ringgold, taking his last name. One day, the couple visited a Manhattan gallery to show the gallerist examples of Ringgold’s still lifes and landscapes. The gallerist responded, “You can’t do that.” Ringgold came to realize, “what she’s saying is: It’s the 1960s, all hell is breaking loose all over, and you’re painting flowers and leaves. You can’t do that. Your job is to tell your story.”

Ringgold responded by addressing the subject of race in America in her first series of political paintings, The American People, and became involved in the artistic and political events of the era. She, with others, formed the Ad Hoc Women's Art Committee, protesting the Whitney Museum of American Art’s virtual exclusion of women from its annual show (the Whitney’s 1969 Annual included only eight women out of 151 total artists). The protesters demanded 50-percent women, and though the Whitney didn’t meet this goal, the museum did include 20 percent the following year.

In the 1970s, Ringgold returned to her roots in working with fabric, making masks, sculptures, and tankas for her masked performances. She made her first story quilts in the 1980s, combining images with text as a way of publishing her own, unedited words. “During that time, I was trying to get my autobiography published, but no one wanted to print my story. In 1983, I began writing stories on my quilts as an alternative. That way, when my quilts were hung up to look at, or photographed for a book, people could still read my stories. They are written the way I write my children's stories — each section written on the quilt is a page.”

Today, Ringgold is included in the Whitney’s collection, and she continues to champion equality and freedom of speech, opening the art world for female artists and artists of color.

“In the exhibition Faith Ringgold: An American Artist, there is warmth, charm, and straightforward honesty in Ringgold’s art,” said Crocker Art Museum Associate Curator Kristina Gilmore. “It draws us in and disarms us, then often reveals powerful messages. Through her work, she speaks truths that are sometimes haunting and painful, but often joyful and heartwarming. It’s quite inspirational.”





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