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Faith Ringgold

“I just feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world being able to do what I love and to do it all day every day if I like…”

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About Faith Ringgold

In October 1930, Faith Ringgold was born in New York City. Faith lived with her parents and her older brother and sister in a neighborhood called Harlem. In the 1920s Harlem had become famous as a place where a number of great African American writers, artists, and musicians lived and worked.
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When Faith was young, she was often sick with asthma. Art became one of her favorite hobbies. When Faith got older, she knew she wanted to turn her hobby into her job, so she went to college to study art. After college, she taught kids at New York City public schools. She was a classroom art teacher for a long time, but in the 1970s, she decided to devote herself to her art full-time.
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Faith continued to give speeches and teach. She also devoted a lot of her time and energy to fighting for equal rights. Across the United States, women and African Americans were demanding to be treated fairly. Faith and other artists were especially upset that almost all of the work in museum collections was by white men. They protested for these museums to display more art by black artists and women and they put together their own shows too.
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When Faith first started out as an artist, she painted ordinary subjects like landscapes. But eventually, she realized that art could also be a way to talk about history, change stereotypes, and express her opinions. When she was in her thirties, Faith started making paintings about things like the problems between people of different races in the United States or important people in African American history, like Martin Luther King, Jr. Faith also made murals (large paintings on walls), created soft sculpture dolls, and did art performances.
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On a trip to Europe, Faith saw a show at a museum that included thangkas, cloth frames used in Tibetan art. She had an idea to use cloth frames for her own painting, so she asked her mother, Willi Posey, who was a seamstress and dress designer, for help. That was the beginning of Faith’s use of fabric and painting together. Later, Faith started making painted story quilts. One of her most famous story quilts, Tar Beach, uses pictures and words to tell a story inspired by Faith’s childhood when she would sleep up on the roof in the summertime to stay cool. Faith later turned Tar Beach and some of her other story quilts into children’s books. (Look for them in your library or at the book store!)
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Quilts were very meaningful for Faith. Her great-great grandmother had been a slave in the South. One of her tasks was to make quilts for the plantation. She taught her daughter to sew and quilt and those skills were handed down through the women in Faith’s family. Quilts also reminded Faith of her African background. A lot of African art traditions focus on cloth and many quilts use patterns based on African decoration. Africa also had a rich tradition of storytelling.
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Faith thought of quilting as art, but most people thought of it as a craft, something that belongs in your house, not in a museum. By making quilt paintings, Faith was insisting that quilts were art. She was celebrating the work of women and the arts of Africa. Today, her colorful story quilts hang in some of the most important museums in the world!
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Licensed Images Information

Tar Beach, 1988 | Women on a Bridge Series #1 | Acrylic on Canvas, bordered with printed, painted, quilted, and pieced cloth | 74 5/8 × 68 ½ inches | © 1997 Faith Ringgold | Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC
Dancing at the Louvre | The French Collection | Acrylic on Canvas, tie-dyed, pieced fabric border | 73.5 x 80.5 inches | © 1991 Faith Ringgold Private Collection
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Keyword:
Quilting

In quilting, different layers of fabric are sewn together. Usually there is a top fabric and a back fabric with some soft, warm material, like wool, in between. Quilting can be done by hand or with a sewing machine. Some quilts use whole pieces of fabric that the quilter stitches decorative patterns into. Other quilts are made up of smaller pieces of different fabrics that are sewn together to make patterns. Cut-out fabric shapes or pictures that are sewn onto the top layer of the quilt are called appliqué. In the past, quilts were often made by groups of women working together. Quilting takes a lot of hard work. By doing it together, women could make it easier and a lot more fun! Women took pride in the quilts they made. Sometimes they even marked them with their names or initials.

Activities and Questions

  • Make a picture or a book that tells a story. Use words and images.
  • Ask everyone in your family to design and make a fabric square. With the help of a parent or another adult, sew them all together into a quilt.
  • Ask one of your parents or grandparents to teach you how to do something they learned to do when they were younger.
  • Read Faith Ringgold’s book Tar Beach. Think about one of your happy memories.
  • Collect things around your house that you think belong in a museum. Use them to create a museum display of your own. Give your friends or family a tour!
  • Think about something you’d like to change in the world. Paint or draw a picture about it.
  • Faith Ringgold combines paint and fabric in her art. What are some reasons she might have chosen to work with these materials? If you were a professional artist, what material or materials would you choose to work with? Why?
  • Stories are very important in Faith Ringgold’s work. What are your favorite kinds of stories? Why?