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Faith Ringgold, quilt and visual artist, dies at 93 : NPR

Artist Faith Ringgold sits in front of her “Tar Beach” quilt in 1993. The artwork also inspired a children’s book of the same name.

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Artist Faith Ringgold sits in front of her “Tar Beach” quilt in 1993. The artwork also inspired a children’s book of the same name.

Kathy Willens/AP

Artist Faith Ringgold, well known for her quilts depicting African American experiences, has died. She was 93 years old.

Her death was confirmed by her assistant Grace Matthews, who said Ringgold died at her home Saturday in Englewood, New Jersey.

Ringgold also created paintings, sculptures, performances and children’s books. Her work has focused on black life, women’s life, and the intersection between the two.

One of her first and most famous story quilts is called “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima.” It began with his observation of the changing face of a certain brand of pancakes.

“Do you know Aunt Jemima’s pancake box?” Ringgold told Fresh air‘s Terry Gross in 1991. “If you look at the first ones when I was a kid, she was a lot darker…her nose was wider, her lips were fuller and she was bigger. …And so I wanted to pay tribute to all those Aunt Jemimas that we have in all our families – these strong, very powerful women who sometimes don’t pay attention to their weight because they are so busy feeding the whole family.”

The result is a quilt with square panels showing black women next to panels of children, teens, adults, whites, and blacks. Panels of written texts and samples of decorative fabrics are arranged in a checkerboard pattern between people.

In history quilts like this, Ringgold worked in a medium deeply tied to African-American slavery. However, this was not his original medium. She wanted to paint landscapes.

She told NPR in 2013 that she attempted to present these landscapes in a major New York gallery. It was during the civil rights movement, and gallerist Ruth White refused.

“And she’s like, ‘You can’t do that. You’re a black woman and you paint landscapes? It’s the mid-’60s, all hell is breaking loose across the country,'” Ringgold says.

Ringgold’s art has changed. She began reading the works of James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka and became a member of the black arts movement.


A visitor views artist Faith Ringgold’s work, “The Flag is Bleeding #2” during a preview on December 4, 2019.

Leïla Macor /AFP via Getty Images


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A visitor views artist Faith Ringgold’s work, “The Flag is Bleeding #2” during a preview on December 4, 2019.

Leïla Macor /AFP via Getty Images

In 1963, she began a series of paintings called The American People. These are haunting, sometimes violent depictions.

One of them, entitled “Die”, depicts a street riot. Another, “The Flag Is Bleeding,” shows exactly that.

“That’s what was happening in America,” Ringgold said in 2013. “And I wanted them to look at these paintings and see themselves. Look and see themselves.”

Faith Ringgold was born in 1930 in Harlem, New York. She suffered from asthma and spent a lot of time at home making art as a child. She eventually went to art school.

Ringgold learned to quilt from her family. Her mother, Willi Posey Jones, made dresses; she worked with her daughter to create Ringgold’s first quilt.

As Ringgold grew older, his images became less angry. She eventually began writing and illustrating children’s books. Towards the end of her career, she benefited from more exhibitions around the world and major retrospectives of her art.

Adrienne Childs is an art historian and curator. She says Ringgold influenced an entire generation of artists.

“Faith Ringgold opened the door for young artists — artists after her, black artists in particular — to get their message out through these types of alternative media,” Childs said.

Childs said she had a favorite Faith Ringgold book to read to her own children when they were young: Tar Beach. Based on one of her own story quilts, Tar Beach tells the story of a young girl lying on the roof of an apartment while her parents and their friends have a picnic, imagining herself flying above the city.

At the end of Tar Beach, the young girl tells her little brother that everyone can fly. “All you need,” Ringgold wrote, “is a place to go that you can’t get to any other way.”


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Additional reporting by Chloé Veltman….

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With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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