Slave Rape Series: 2 or 3, "Run, You Might Save Your Life" by Faith Ringgold. WC T22 1972. Tanka by Mme. Willi Posey, Faith's Mother. Portrait of Faith's Daughter, Michele Wallace.
Soul Pictures: Black Feminist Generations
This blog is composed of images and writings related to the life and work of Faith Ringgold, her mother Mme. Willi Posey, and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace. There are pages with links to blogs composed of the materials arranged by decades. The blog, itself, will ultimately be composed of materials related to the life of the family in the 90s and the 21st century.
Slave Rape Series: 2 or 3, "Run, You Might Save Your Life" by Faith Ringgold. WC T22 1972. Tanka by Mme. Willi Posey, Faith's Mother. Portrait of Faith's Daughter, Michele Wallace.
Click on the link that follows, whereupon you will gain access to a pdf of the entire book "The Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning: The 2008 Supplement Update" edited by Faith's lawyer Barbara Hoffman, which is full of fascinating information about artists' foundations generally. Black artists generally don't have foundations, at least part of the point in Faith's determination to have one. Her view is that having a foundation (or some form of non-profit organization) is essential to the preservation of the artist's work beyond his or her lifetime.
Within this manuscript pdf, the 7th chapter is composed of an essay written by myself (Michele Wallace) about Faith's Foundation, which is now in its 12th year of operation.
Many of the programs have changed since then and it is time for a new essay on this topic, although it is difficult to figure out what can really be shared.
The Foundation has turned out to be such a personal and intimate thing, particularly since all of the work is done on a volunteer basis and operations are minimally funded directly by Faith Ringgold out of a bank account she maintains for that purpose.
The highlight of the foundation year is its annual garden party in Faith's garden at her home on Jones Road in Englewood, New Jersey, in which Faith welcomes paying guests for the benefit of the continuation of the work of the foundation.
A relatively new feature of the foundation is the awarding of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Previous winners have been David Driskell, Questa Benberry, Elizabeth Catlett, Samella Lewis, Margaret Burroughs, Aminah Robinson and Sam Gilliam. The idea of the award, itself, was inspired by print making master Bob Blackburn who died before its conception.
This year the awardee is Camille Billops, artist, print maker, ceramicist, filmmaker and archivist.
Her work as an archivist and a guardian angel (along with her husband) of African American artists in a wide array of fields is of interest in regard to the granting of this award as Faith has recently expressed her desire that the ACFF Lifetime Achievement Award should go to artists who have done their own work but also made a contribution to the lives of other artists.
A detailed description of Camille and her (Jim Hatch) husband's Hatch-Billops Collection can be found online at Emory University Libraries (the institution which will ultimately provide a permanent home for the collection):
|After the weight begins to comes off in 1986|
|The two Faiths and Burdette on the Roof at 345 West 14th Street in 1986. Photographer C. Love|
These images composes the first set showing Faith as a child from 1930 through 1939. These photos are mostly by D'Laigle, Sr. The images in bathing costumes were all taken in Atlantic City where they spent all of their summers. Almost all of the pictures show Faith, who was the youngest with her older sister Barbara and brother Andrew. This was a preparatory composition slightly different from the way they were used in the final Change: 100 Pound Weight Loss Quilt.
This essay was written by me in conjunction with the 50 Year Retrospective exhibition of Faith's work at Rutger's University, and published in the catalogue.
Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit.
W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Primitive is a word I use in a positive way to explain the completeness of a concept in art. I like to layer and pattern and embellish my art in the manner of tribal art, and then, like a blues singer, I like to repeat and repeat it again. Fragmented, understated, or minimalist art forms frustrate me. I want to finish them. In the 1960s there was a minimalist aesthetic advocating “less is more.” To me, less is even less and more is still not quite enough. I was now using feathers and beads as never before.
I had been to the African source of my own “classical” art forms and now I was set free.
Faith Ringgold, We Flew Over The Bridge (1995)
In W.E.B. Dubois’ beautiful words on the cultural legacy of African Americans, which were written relatively early in a lifetime of struggle to uplift the race, one hears succinctly put the counter-claims of the African American experience in active contradiction with the utopian rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. No, Dubois, seems to say, none of you who would call it your country have a claim that proceeds or outweighs the claim of the descendants of the slaves. It was the slaves, the kidnapped Africans who were here from the time of Jamestown in 1619 tilling the soil, contributing their flesh and sinew and ingenuity to build up this beautiful country, those 13 colonies, that the Founding Fathers would declare independent of the British crown.
It was the former slaves who would supplement the military forces of the colonies in the hopes of earning their freedom in a new nation. And for some time immediately after the Revolution, it seemed in some quarters as though slavery’s day was done. It was in this context that the Northern and Southern colonies struck the pact that would give slaveholders three-fifths of a vote for each of their slaves in the subsequent writing of the Constitution, helping to make their weight in national legislative bodies roughly equivalent to the non-slaveholders until the balance of power could not be maintained one minute more and the country itself faced a great Civil War.
Ironically, neither Dubois nor anyone else gave much thought to the potential for visual productivity among the slaves or even for the role of visual art in the lives of African Americans generally. When Dubois lists the African American contributions to the building of the land, the houses, the fences, the gardens and estates that the slaves made possible are considered unworthy of a mention. It follows then that it should be no surprise but when we turn to look for illustrations of the issues of race and gender in connection with the Declaration of Independence, we find precious little worthy of our respect and consideration. We find very little that can help enlighten us on the relationship of the Founders to their many slaves, and the future of those slaves. The women of any color were not even a thought.
Therefore when Faith turned last summer to the project of illustrating the Declaration of Independence, I took upon myself the task of finding what did exist among the images Americans invoke in celebration of the birth of the United States of America. I could find no visual images created specifically by African Americans in the 18th century at all bearing upon the rhetoric of the Declaration. Of the objects or images produced at the time of the American Revolution, I found some black artists: Joshua Johnston, the portrait painter who painted both blacks and whites, the slave potter from North Carolina known as Dave, the etchings by Scipio Moorhead (1773), among them one of the slave poet Phyllis Wheatley, the silhouettes of Moses Williams, who was a slave of Samuel Copley, the artist, including a silhouette of himself (in Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Addison Gallery of American Art 2006).
With little in the way of precedents, Faith nonetheless devised six original images, each one double-sided with an image taken from the struggle of the American Revolution paired with an image relevant to the African American struggle for freedom and justice which continued for another two hundred and fifty years after the Revolution. First she made paintings of them as the basis for a series of lithographs with the help of her favorite Master Printer Curlee Holton, with whom she had collaborated on the prints included in The Jones Road Series and in the limited edition of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, Letters from a Birmingham Jail (2007).
From the outset Faith knew she wanted to emphasize African slavery since we know that slavery was a vital aspect of the colonies and would remain crucial to the productivity of the new nation. But her biggest challenge turned out to be not representing the plight of African Americans in relation to the Declaration, but rather the plight of women.
It is no secret to anybody who knows me that I love to watch films and I love to read books. There are a lot of great books about slavery, and the books that consider the issues of the 18th century and the Enlightenment in relation to slavery form a distinct category in the field of American History. In the past two decades since the unearthing of the colonial slave burial grounds in lower Manhattan, our picture of the lives of slaves and the role slavery played in the colonies, particularly in the North, has been irrevocably altered and enhanced. (This material resulted in among other works the epic New York Historical Society’s Slavery in New York edited by Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris, The New Press 2005).
Whereas when I was a graduate student in American Studies at Yale University briefly in the early 80s and studied the history of slavery and abolitionism there, the colonial period was interesting yet still sketchy in terms of readily available secondary sources, now the secondary sources are both provocative and fascinating with work on the slave trade, itself, on the piracy on the high seas that resulted from it, on the development of abolitionism and African Diasporic contributions to the movement to end slavery, as well as such special works as Annette Gordon Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, University of Virginia 1997, in which we learn about the fascinating connection between a family of slaves and the family of the most prominent of Founding Fathers.
I drew upon my background readings in the field to advise my Mom, such as most significantly the incomparable Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford UP 2006) by my former teacher at Yale, arguably the most distinguished historian of abolitionism in the world today—Professor David Brion Davis. But Faith would insist upon visual sources, regardless the arguments I might make for the supremacy of concepts and ideas, and for the visual we turned together to the recent documentary work in the field. The best of these were the following:
Slavery and the Making of America Series produced by Thirteen/WNET New York 2004, Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery Series produced by WGBH Boston 2006 and The Middle Passage produced by HBO 2003. But with precious few antecedent illustrations, paintings and sculpture to draw upon, no photographs and little in the way of a visual imagination, the palette of these documents remained largely monochromatic. Their artistic strengths lay largely in their use of music, in particular Slavery and The Making of America for which the celebrated African American musician Bernice Johnson Reagon wrote the score and performed much of the music, some of it with the help of her multi-talented daughter Toshi Reagon. I acquired as well the extended cds Reagon wrote and produced to accompany the production. Since the world of the slaves she is creating is as much a mystery in its musical composition as it is in its visual composition, Reagon uses her considerable knowledge of the history of African American music in the 19th and 20th century to reconstruct the music the slaves of the 18th century might have made, or might have understood if they had heard it. In the process, Reagon produces one of the most beautiful compilations of music I have ever heard, which served as an inspiration, albeit in the abstract, to Faith’s wonderful work.
Faith was particularly struck by Reagon’s rendering into song, WEB Du Bois famous words on the founding of the American nation, “Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here,” which he addressed to his white readers in The Souls of Black Folk (1903).
But perhaps my fondest memory of our whole interaction during her completion of the project was viewing together the docu-drama of the life of John Adams produced by HBO that spring. From this riveting experience came Faith’s interest in the letters Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams who was one of the signers of the Declaration. Sadly, this was as close as any woman in the 18th century got to having a verifiable impact on the contents of the Declaration.
In the second of her illustrations of the Declaration, Faith used a painted portrait image of Abigail Adams as her model, rendering it in black and white and juxtaposed it with a carte de visite photographic portrait of the 19th century black feminist orator Sojourner Truth. On these images Faith superimposed in turn the handwritten words by Abigail Adams in the 18th century concerning the rights of women and the words Truth spoke in her defense of the vote for women (which were not successful) at the conclusion of the Civil War.
Faith’s first image juxtaposes King George III against a background of the British Flag. He is walking on the heads of the American Colonists. King George III was the person to whom the Declaration of Independence was addressed. His response was extremely dismissive, which set off the American Revolution. Next to King George, Faith has set an image of a slave ship in which there is superimposed a diagrammatic portrayal of how the slaves were packed in the holds.
In the water are slaves either being dumped or jumping to their deaths, recalling most famously JW Turner's 19th century masterpiece “Slaveship.”
The third illustration "Absolute Tyranny" juxtaposes the portrayal of the Boston Massacre in which Crispus Attucks, an African American was the first to fall (a version of the images printed and circulated by Paul Revere) with a lynching scene in the American South.
The fourth illustration juxtaposes a rendition of The Boston Tea Party with an image taken from the famous photograph of the Civil Rights Confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge some two hundred years later.
Illustration 5 juxtaposes an image of Benjamin Franklin pleading the case of the new nation before the British Crown after the American Revolution in 1776 with an image of Frederick Douglass addressing a hypothetical abolitionist meeting under the trees in the period after his escape from slavery in the 1830s.
Wherever the slave ships traveled on the high seas, there was an ongoing blood bath of contending forces. There was no justice. There was no peace.
Faith’s final image juxtaposes Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence at his entirely slave-built estate in Montecello, Virginia with Martin Luther King writing Letter from a Birmingham Jail in his cell in 1963.
The Enlightenment was full of contradictions, including the Declaration of Independence which was arguably the first world historical document to result from Enlightenment ideas: equality yes but for rational, civilized human being, which as everyone knew included only white adult land-owning males. This was such an implicit assumption at the time of the writing of the Declaration, that these terms need not even be explicitly stated, leaving perhaps the loophole of the next two centuries which find us now with a President who descends from Africa and from America combined.
Of course, Thomas Jefferson, the most revered of our founding fathers and the author of the Declaration of Independence, thought that Africans were culturally inferior based upon some rather fanciful observations culled from existing readings of African cultures and his close observation of the African slaves he owned and carefully managed. His Montecello estate, where Faith pictures him quietly writing the Declaration, still stands today as a celebration of the beauty and careful design that he and his well trained and skillfully trained artisan slaves constructed. He kept his slaves and their families with him for life, if his finances didn’t interfere, and he also chose to have each of his slaves educated in a useful trade or craft contributing to the self-sufficiency of the beautiful Monticello. But they were still slaves, and even Sally Hemmings, whom it is widely thought bore him children, was sold to cover his debts when he died.
Thomas Jefferson was one of the masters of enlightenment thought, which has been remembered for its rationalism based upon observation, its banishment of confusing and useless emotionalism as well as religious intolerance. Yet Jefferson’s pristine intellect remained tainted by his own complicity in the horrifying ordeal of European and American cooperation in the slave trade in Africa. As such, his dream nation remains haunted by the psychological and historical traumatization of slavery's middle passage.
Michele Wallace interviews Willie Posey, her grandmother, in 1980 at her appartment in Harlem. Topics are her early life in Palatka, Florida, the death of her father, her move to Harlem, her relationship to her mother and siblings. She is 77 at the time of the interview and she resides in Harlem at the Lenox Terrace. A former fashion designer, she also collaborated extensively on the art of her daughter Faith RInggold
I came back from Africa with ideas for a new mask face, more primitive than any I had ever done before. Primitive is a word I use in a positive way to explain the completeness of a concept in art. I like to layer and pattern and embellish my art in the manner of tribal art, and then, like a blues singer, I like to repeat and repeat it again. Fragmented, understated, or minimalist art forms frustrate me. I want to finish them. In the 1960s there was a minimalist aesthetic advocating "less is more." To me, less is even less and more is still not quite enough. I was now using feathers and beads as never before. I had been to the African source of my own "classical" art forms and now I was set free.
Change Set--The 40s, originally uploaded by olympia2x. Detail from Change Quilt by Faith Ringgold. Copyright exclusively by Faith Ringgold. http://www.faithringgold.com.
The 40s Change Set is composed of photographs including Faith in each year of the decade, to show her body but there are many other narratives besides. Faith used photo etchings then printed on clothe, then quilted as the Change: 100 Pound Weight Loss Story Quilt (1986).
In final version above included photo of Earl and Faith as boyfriend and girlfriend 1946 on Edgecombe Avenue. Slight rearrangement from originals below.
Photos mostly by D'Laigle. Atlantic City Photographer Unknown:
1. Faith with her mother and Barbara's husband Jo Jo in 1949 (19) after church on Easter Sunday.
2. Faith in 1947 (17)
3. Faith with her cousins--Frieda and Jimmy 1940s (not sure of year). My guess 1948 (18)
4. No Date Given but I think this is 1946 when Faith was 16. Photo part of Set by D'Laigle Sr.
5. Faith on boardwalk in Atlantic City/6 & 8. Faith on boardwalk with friends--same photographer. Same date (sometime in the 40s)
7. High School Graduation Picture--Morris High School 1948 (18)
9. Barbara, Marie Reeves (dance teacher) and Faith at Dance Recital in 1940 (10).
10. Faith on day of graduation from high school 1948 (18)
11. Barbara, Willi and Faith (1946)--Part of D'Laigle set also 4)
|Aunt Barbara's Wedding and Faith Modeling|
|Faith having her babies Michele and Barbara, graduating from college |
and continuing with the fashion shows.
All rights reserved. Faith Ringgold Archive.
Faith’s older sister: this is Barbara’s official portrait as she was graduating from Morris High School in 1943 at the age of 16. She had begun kindergarten at three because on the first day of school (1930), the principal felt sorry for my grandmother (later Mme. Willi Posey) who seemed to have four small children (although one of them was her sister’s daughter). Faith was then a new born. Copyright Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Faith and Earl as teenagers on Edgecombe Avenue.
It was 1946. Faith was 16 and Earl was 19. He was a musician and attended college at the New School and Julliard from time to time. They say he was very smart. Copyright Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Faith and her friends in the 40s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Strolling in what was largely a segregated town then. Faith says they looked forward to staying all summer and enjoying the race movies at the local cinema. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Faith’s high school graduation photo. Faith graduated from Morris High School in 1948 and begun studies in Art Education at the City College of New York at a time when girls were still not admitted to the school of liberal arts, and when black students were practically non-existent. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Barbara remained ahead of her cohort educationally until she graduated she completed college at NYU in Home Economics. This is the day of her graduation with her mother. Photo taken by Cardoza Posey, her mother’s older brother who had helped with the expense. Copyright Faith Ringgold Archive.
Aunt Barbara's Wedding Series:
Photographs by H. DeLaigle Sr.
Arriving at Aunt Barbara’s wedding: Mme. Willi Posey, Mrs. Brown, Barbara, Faith and Grandpa Andrew. Posey and he are no longer married. Divorced since 1946 (also featured on the cover of Dark Designs and Visual Culture, Duke University Press 2004). Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Aunt Barbara and Groom after the wedding. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved
Aunt Barbara's ladies in waiting including her younger sister Faith on her right in the large flowers. Faith is 19. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Wedding Party including Earl (my father) and Faith (my mother) months before they were married and two years before I was born. 1950 at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.
Uncle Andrew, Faith and Barbara's older brother, dressed for Aunt Barbara’s wedding. Faith Ringgold Archive. All rights reserved.
Mme. Posey (Faith’s mother) and her friends Lottie Belle and tba at 363 Edgecombe Avenue for Aunt Barbara’s wedding. Faith Ringgold Photo Arhive. All rights reserved.
Mme. Willi Posey business card. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All Rights Reserved.
Mme. Willi Posey fashion pose in dress of her own design. Photos by Thomas Morrison at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in 1950. Faith Ringgold Archive. All rights reserved.
Aunt Barbara modeling coat made by Mme. Willi Posey in apartment at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem. All rights reserved. Faith Ringgold Archive.
Mid 1940s to Early 1950s
By 1986, Faith Ringgold was even somewhat ahead of her plans for artistic success. She had been unrelenting in her choice as a black woman artist to do that which no one had ever seen anyone do, which was to render herself a world class visual artist, somebody her peers regardless of race, gender and ethnicity would know, respect and recognize. Failing that—because it didn’t look much like anything anybody else of her race and gender could do in 1959 when she started out after grad school—well at least she would have pursued every possibility, produced as much first rate work in as many ways as she could imagine.
In 1986 she had achieved her 50-year landmark and then some, despite the burden of two daughters who didn’t always appreciate the importance of her goals and two husbands. Her second husband (Burdette Ringgold) had been extremely helpful in terms of providing security both for her and the girls.
Faith had thus become a relatively well known artist in cultural circles all over the United States and abroad via her travelling exhibitions of tankas (sewn clothe frames around acrylic paintings, which included her Slave Rape Series, her Political Landscape Series, and her Feminist Series), her soft sculpture (including sewn and beaded dolls, sculptures and masks) and her performance pieces in which she read to college audiences from the text of her autobiography in-progress wearing a variety of costumes and masks she had made with the help of friends and various artist assistants. 
By this time she had major league representation in a gallery in SoHo and she had received an appointment as a full Professor at the University of California in San Diego where the position granted her a large studio to work in, spending six of the coldest months of the year in California. Now she retained artist assistants in both New York (Lisa Yee) and California (Gail Leibig) to handle the increasing commissions, to do the intricate needlework her projects required, and to leave her time to continue to pursue her further developments in her own art even as she still engaged in college tours and college teaching. She had always had a lot of energy and an indomitable spirit. Such qualities were to rise particularly to the surface in the 80s. Her New York address remained in Harlem in the apartment where our family had come to live in the early 1960s.
But the single aspect of her work that would account for bringing her the most attention in the 80s was the development of the story quilt. Quilting she had learned from her mother (Mme. Willi Posey), who had learned it from her mother (Ida Matilda Posey) and her grandmother (Betsy Bingham) in Palatka and Jacksonville, Florida, who had learned it from their female forebears who had been weavers, quilters and seamstresses for their families and their communities.
When Faith’s mother Willi Posey died in 1982, it was a setback for the entire family but especially Faith because she was still in the early stages of pursuing the quilting collaboration with her mother prompted by an invitation to participate in an artists/quilters collaborative show which begun at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Out of that collaboration had come “Echoes of Harlem (1980),“ and then “Mother’s Quilt (1983),” which was made by Faith from pieces cut by Posey shortly before her death.
In 1983, when Faith was producing her first story quilt “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?” she was doubtful of its artistic value or legitimacy in the beginning, not sure of what it was she had.
Image One--Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? By Faith Ringgold (1983). Private Collection. All rights reserved. Story Quilt Acrylic Painting framed in tie-died quilted fabric. Tie-Die by Marquetta Jones.
Image Two--Detail of Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? Handed beaded and painted images of Aunt Jemima as a modern middle aged woman with dignity and ambition. Faith's first story quilt.
Faith hid this quilt under an extra bed because she wasn't sure she had done anything worth being seen. Moira Roth came to stay with us at 345 West 145th Street. I was then living with my parents. Moira who would offer the job of the professorship at UCSD wanted to see her work in preparation for writing about her for a catalogue for her 20 Year Retrospective at the Studio Museum in Harlem when mother confessed that her newest work she had hidden under her bed. Of course Moira asked to see it, loved it. She and Mary Schmidt Campbell (who was then Director of the Studio Museum) insisted that it be featured on the cover of the catalogue (which I edited) and on a poster advertising the show. Both the catalogue and the poster can still be found on sale at the Studio Museum.
Made up of heavily embroidered squares of all the characters in the story, in particular several versions of Aunt Jemima, Faith centered the art work around a fictional narrative in dialect describing the rise to economic glory of Aunt Jemima and her happy marriage followed by her death and the African funeral her children then gave her.
Image Three--“Change: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Story Quilt” January 1, 1986. All rights reserved. Faith Ringgold Archive.
At that point, Faith’s major writing experience had been in the context of her autobiography in-progress, which had not yet found a publisher. Indeed, she read from the autobiography and began to write on her quilts as a way of publishing despite the rejection of publishers.
Of course, in 1988 Faith would do what is still her most famous story quilt, «Tar Beach», which is currently in the Collection of the Guggenheim Museum, as part of her Women on a Bridge Series of story quilts featuring as well «Sonny's Quilt.» which featured her childhood friend Sonny Rollins practicing his saxophone on a bridge. It was someone who admired Tar Beach who first came to her with the idea of making a children’s book out of it. That book had such success among children and adults that it won the coveted Caldecott Prize.
Nonetheless in 1985, Faith was still lugging one very concrete vestige of the grief that had descended onto her shoulders after the unexpected death of her mother in 1981 (Posey was 78) and the equally unexpected death of her sister, and her only remaining sibling, Barbara (she was 58) in the following year. It had been a sad business indeed but it was now time to shed that burden, which had taken the all too tangible form of a precipitous weight gain. In the course of this struggle, Faith produced a work of art unlike any she had done before or has done since. It was a joyful and mostly light spirited work of art (probably the lightest she had done yet) that would draw heavily upon the story of her family as represented by the huge photographic archive my grandmother and her mother Mme. Willi Posey had painstakingly composed in the course of her lifetime. This new work in story quilt form would summarize and comment upon her travails as a black woman up to and including the present (Faith was 58 at the time, the same age I am now). The purpose of the work, which was clearly stated in the work, itself, was to support her in her effort to lose the weight she had gained over the decades.
Change: 100 Pound Weight Loss Story Quilt was anchored around yet another version of a story quilt, this time based on Faith’s life and her relationship to food in 7 rectangular sections composed each of a photo/collage of pictures of herself and family transferred to a white muslin surface in a then experimental printing technique with matching text panels hand printed by Faith telling stories about the role food had played in her life in that particular decade. The panels were then sewn together and quilted.
Since this story quilt seems to me to provide such a pivotal turning point in the development of our life as a family and in the development of Faith’s work as an artist, I have decided to use its gathering of pictures and family memories to organize the story of the women in our family.
Their black feminist legacy was curiously shaped out of many things not ordinarily thought of as feminist, such as fashion shows, weddings, cocktail parties, club dances, and trips to Africa and Europe, although these activities are often thought of as markers of striving for upward class mobility, particularly among the black bourgeoisie. What I would like to suggest in this case is that it is visually impossible to distinguish the aspirations of women for improvement in their status as nonbeings in a world dominated by men from the more problematic characteristics of striving for what Thorsten Veblen called invidious class distinction.
From the mid 1940s, when her daughters finished high school and 1960, Posey was heavily engaged in the life of a fashion designer (self-employed Harlem seamstress) and active in a variety of national women’s clubs and local organizations, many of them formed by her and her close friends. These were also the years in which Posey divorced her husband (Andrew Jones) who had financed Faith’s childhood, took back her maiden name (Posey) and moved from 222 West 146th Street to an apartment on the 4th floor of 363 Edgecombe Avenue on Sugar Hill.
Change Text: Part II by Faith Ringgold (copyright 1986)
By the 1940s we all had to clean up our plates for the starving children. That of course was right up your alley since you never left anything anyway. It was in those years that you discovered chocolate candy bars. They were a nickel then and as big as the ones that cost 50 cents today. All you really thought about in those years were chocolate candy bars, boys, make-up and clothes. Actually you never really pursued your chocolate addiction past your teens, except for the time you thought of making chocolate candy as a business. You found it’s quite easy to make chocolate candy and even easier to eat it all.
It’s lucky for you that you never learned to make pastry. The few times you tried it, the results were more useful as bricks you could throw in a real pastry shop window. Some people would call that a sacrilege, and give you two to four years time. But you wouldn’t have minded if you could do it in a bakery. Some ideas are so bad you wonder how you entertained them even for a minute—like the one you had about making all your pastries so that you would at least have good nutrition. You made a pound cake that weighed more than you did. Industrial strength pound cake. You needed a saw to cut it. And you ate it. You had to steam it first, but you ate it.”
Change Part II: 1950-1959 Text by Faith Ringgold (transcription) “Women in the 1950s had to get married to leave home. Barbara was married first. Her wedding was beautiful; however, both of you marriages were terrible mistakes. You were still in college when you and your two daughters moved in with your mother after your divorce. All through the 1950s you were scantily clothed in tight, revealing dresses with matching three-inch heels, a size too small; and often amazed onlookers by falling down whole fights of stairs without injury.
You also modeled for your mother in her many fashion shows, and was her master of ceremonies, which was more appealing to you. Being a model seemed an unnatural thing to do. You were a connoisseur of pork chop sandwiches—that was natural to you. Birdie, (your soon to be second husband) often brought you a pork chop sandwich and some tutti frutti ice cream made from whole milk and cream when he came to call. That was love.
Pork chop sandwiches cost 75 cents. They were greasy and fried—better than steak. A date was to go to the movies or a concert for a dance and then dinner at Sherman’s Barbeque or the Red Rooster on 7th Avenue for fried chicken and a drink. The next day after a date you were always sick with asthma. As a matter of fact, many times you got asthma before the date and had to go to the hospital instead; or you went out and got asthma on the way home and had to be carried upstairs. That was romance in the 50s.”
For information concerning Ringgold’s work during the 70s and the 80s, refer to Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold’s French Collection and Other Story Quilts edited by Dan Cameron et al. University of California Press 1998 and We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, Duke University Press (originally published by Little Brown 1993) 2005. For more information concerning Faith’s earliest mature works, mostly oil paintings on stretched canvases, see Lisa Farrington’s Art on Fire: The Politics of Race and Sex in the Paintings of Faith Ringgold, Millenium 1999 and her more recent monograph on the work of Faith Ringgold published as part of the Pomegranate Series edited by David Driscoll.
 See Declaration of Independence: Fifty Years of Art by Faith Ringgold, May 17-June 26, 2009 curated by Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin, Essays by Tanya Sheehan and Michele Wallace, Mason Gross School of the Arts Galleries, Rutgers University, Institute for Women and Art, New Brunswick, NJ.
 "Whose Afraid of Aunt Jemima?" was featured on the cover of Faith Ringgold: Twenty Years of Painting, Sculpture and Performance edited by Michele Wallace, The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1984. One of Faith's favorite stories is about how she asked me to write the text of Whose Afraid of Aunt Jemima and that I declined, saying that Aunt Jemima wasn't my story, that I ran several miles a day in order to avoid that story. So Faith took up the pen and wrote her own story and put it on her quilt for the first time. In the following year, Faith composed a story quilt series called The Bitter Nest, which has said in both her autobiography and elsewhere was in response to the difficulties of her relationship with me at that time.
 Faith Ringgold Change: Painted Story Quilts, January 13 through February 7, 1987, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. All rights reserved. Essays by Moira Roth,Thalia Gouma-Peterson.
- Faith Ringgold (42)
- Photo Essay (35)
- Willi Posey (34)
- Michele Wallace (30)
- Photo Collection (26)
- Change Quilt (16)
- Art by Faith Ringgold (15)
- Chronologies and Documents (12)
- Critical Essay (12)
- Barbara Knight (9)
- Burdette Ringgold (9)
- the 50s (9)
- Faith Wallace-Gadsden (8)
- Florida (7)
- the 70s (7)
- B.B. Posey (6)
- Barbara Wallace (6)
- the 60s (6)
- the 80s (6)
- the 40s (5)
- Anne Porter (4)
- Earl Wallace (4)
- Fashion (4)
- Ida Matilda Posey (4)
- Sonny Rollins (4)
- The French Collection (4)
- Camp Craigmeade (3)
- Susan Shannon (3)
- The Mona Lisa Interview (3)
- Theodora Grant (3)
- Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima (3)
- 19th century (2)
- Andrew Jones (2)
- Betsy Bingham (2)
- Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman (2)
- Declaration of Independence (2)
- Helen Meade (2)
- Invisibility Blues (2)
- Judson 3 (2)
- New Lincoln School (2)
- Theodora Wallace-Orr (2)
- Thomas Morrison (2)
- the 30s (2)
- African American Art (1)
- Anyone Can Fly Foundation (1)
- Art of Faith Ringgold (1)
- Black Visual Culture (1)
- Cardoza Posey (1)
- Dark Designs and Visual Culture (1)
- For The Women's House (1)
- Gene Nesmith (1)
- Ida Mae Bingham (1)
- Interviews (1)
- Inventories (1)
- Jacksonville (1)
- Joan Ashley (1)
- Judith Wilson (1)
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1)
- Lisa Yee (1)
- Mojo Okediji (1)
- P.S. 186 (1)
- Palatka (1)
- Photo Colllection (1)
- Photo-Essay (1)
- Soul Pictures (1)
- University of African Art (1)
- Yvonne Mullings (1)
- ► 2012 (7)
- ► 2010 (13)
- ► August (13)
- ► July (17)
- ► May (11)
- ► July (23)
My Publications--Michele Wallace
- Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman, New Edition, Verso Books 1990
- Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman, The Dial Press 1979
- Black Popular Culture, New Press 1991
- Dark Designs and Visual Culture, Duke UP 2004
- Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory and Back Again, Verso Books 2008
- Invisibility Blues: From Pop To Theory, Verso Books 1999
My Publications--Selected Articles
- "The French Collection: Momma Jones, Mommy Faye and Me," Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold French Collection and Other Story Quilts. University of California 1995.
- Faith Ringold and The Anyone Can Fly Foundation in Barbara Hoffman, ed., A Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning, 2008 Update
- Oscar Micheaux and His Circle, 2001 African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era Essay by Michele Wallace on "Within Our Gates and Oscar Micheaux"
- The Mona Lisa Interview with Faith Ringgold by Michele Wallace
- The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center presents Museums of Tomorrow: An Internet Conference, 10-05-2003
- The Georgia O'Keefe Museum Research Center presents The Modern/Postmodern Dialectic: An Online Symposium, American Art and Culture, 1965-2000
- Passing, Lynching and Jim Crow: A Genealogy of Race and Gender in U.S. Visual Culture, 1895-1929, Dissertation in Cinema Studies, New York University, UMI, May 1999