The day just got cooler today at two MPS schools. This morning, renowned author and artist Faith Ringgold read her 1992 Caldecott-winning childrenâ€™s book "Tar Beach" to students at Hampton Elementary School. Then tonight at 6, Ringgold will give a public lecture at North Division High School.
The two events coincide with the new "Stories Shared" exhibit on display at Arts @ Large, 908 S. 5th St., which features 20 pieces of Ringgoldâ€™s artwork, illustrations and quilts.
OnMilwaukee got a chance to quick sit down with the award-winning author and artist â€“ who has her next book, "Harlem Renaissance Party," coming next year â€“ and chat about her lecture this evening, "Tar Beach" and the importance of sharing stories.
OnMilwaukee.com: What was it like adapting "Tar Beach" as your first novel, both writing and illustrating it?
Faith Ringgold: Well, the real story is "Tar Beach" was a quilt before it became a book. Thatâ€™s how the story got written. I had written my autobiography in 1980 and had decided that I was going to make quilts and write my story on them because I couldnâ€™t get my autobiography published.
I also noticed that when I made these big paintings into quilts, I could carry them around. I could ship them easily. People would stand there and read the words. And I mean actually read the whole thing, and if they didnâ€™t get it all read, theyâ€™d come back and finish it. I was shocked because I thought, "Whoâ€™s gonna stand up there and read all of that?"
OMC: Why do you think that is with a quilt that had that power?
FR: I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t think just writing on a painting that is framed has that power, no. I donâ€™t know why. But the quilt does.
OMC: What was it like having adapting this quilt and having to expand upon it, especially visually?
FR: I had written it at first as a series of quilts. Thereâ€™s five of them, and the first one I did was for a musician named Sonny Rollins. He used to go up on the bridge to blow his horn, and I thought that was fabulous. Somebody going up on a bridge because you canâ€™t do it in an apartment in New York because the neighbors are gonna complain, so you go up on the Brooklyn Bridge and blow your horn.
And I said, boy, it seems like there could be a whole series of paintings like that attributed to women who do things like that because they canâ€™t get over doing this way, so they do it that way. So I said Iâ€™d do a series called "Woman on a Bridge," and "Tar Beach" was my first in 1988.
When I did it, I did it for an exhibition also at Bernice Steinbaumâ€™s gallery, and she said to do one early so she could show it to promote the show. I did the "Tar Beach" one, and this woman who makes pocketbooks â€“ beautiful, jeweled pocketbooks â€“ Judith Lieber, she bought "Tar Beach" before the show even began and asked Bernice what she could do for this artist.
Bernice said why donâ€™t we try to get her into some museums. What about the Met? What about the Guggenheim? So I said you two have gone crazy. I donâ€™t want anything to do with this. (laughs) But it turned out the Guggenheim said yeah, come on in. So itâ€™s in the Guggenheim now.
OMC: Howâ€™d it make the leap from there to a childrenâ€™s novel?
FR: So this woman from Random House goes in her doctorâ€™s office, and Bernice has made posters out of this quilt, all around in different offices and stuff. Sheâ€™s an editor at Random House, and she reads the story. I didnâ€™t really know whether people would stand up there and read the story or not, but I just said Iâ€™m not going to let anybody keep me from publishing. Iâ€™m going to do it.
She read it, and she said that it would make a very good childrenâ€™s book. I said, "Really?" I didnâ€™t even know it was a childrenâ€™s book, except I did know that, when you write something, you put yourself in that frame of mind. So I was writing about my childhood, so I put myself in that frame of mind. So itâ€™s a childrenâ€™s book.
OMC: Do you know what youâ€™re lecturing about tonight?
FR: Me! I use PowerPoints of my art to guide me through my lifeâ€™s story. Because thatâ€™s what the art is about; itâ€™s about me and what I think and what Iâ€™ve done about it. (laughs)
OMC: Do you have any tips of advice out there for any fledgling or young artists or authors out there?
FR: Tell your story. Just keep telling it. Thatâ€™s what artists do anyway: They tell their story. They may not say it that way, but thatâ€™s essentially what theyâ€™re doing. You canâ€™t tell about something you donâ€™t know anything about. So it has to be you in some way. Even if itâ€™s the magic of color or however abstract you make it, itâ€™s you, and youâ€™re sharing it with the world.
OMC: That ties in really nicely with the theme of this whole exhibit, the idea of shared stories. What does that concept mean to you?
FR: Oh absolutely. I grew up on that. People used to come and visit my mother and father, and they would bring their stories of how they left their home and travelled here and there and how they got there and what happened on their way. I used to sit there as a kid and listen to them and their stories. It was fascinating to me.
People donâ€™t do it as much today. I donâ€™t know why. They donâ€™t have time anymore, I guess.
OMC: And then thereâ€™s the Internet.
FR: Yeah, the Internetâ€™s another thing. But yeah, everybody came to see us, and everybody talked. People were always engaging in conversation, telling the story of how they got from here to there or what they did yesterday. And that, to me, was always fascinating because I, frankly speaking as a child, couldnâ€™t figure out how they knew so much and knew so many peopleâ€™s names and events.
I could sit there and listen as long as I didnâ€™t become a nuisance because then I would have to go to bed. (laughs) So I was very careful that I didnâ€™t become a nuisance so I could hear these stories. It was later when I became an artist that I realized that my art could be, and would be, my story.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published April 1, 2015
An embarrassing typo in the Milwaukee Film Festival's press materials has transformed the usual fall movie set piece into a nightmare of creepers and people in uncomfortable trench coats.
Published March 31, 2015
There's a movie out in theaters starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, and nobody cares. This seems impossible. And then I actually saw "Serena," and ooooooh, it all makes so much sense now.
Published March 30, 2015
Flying is statistically the safest form of transportation. It's a popular sentiment, one commonly recited to restore confidence in the important industry after tragic disasters like the deadly Germanwings crash last week. For "Pilot Error" writer and film producer Roger Rapoport, however, that statement isn't as accurate as we'd like to think.
Published March 29, 2015
For a lot of Hollywood, making a kids movie translates out to making essentially a mobile: a simply distracting mix of color and sound. And that's how you get "Home," another manic Sweet Tarts-colored whizbang to be mentally tossed away like an empty popcorn bucket as soon as the film lets out. Yes, the kids will be sated. For anyone older, however, the cue to leave "Home" to go home likely won't come soon enough.
Published March 26, 2015
By most definitions, director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's "Dune" to the big screen in the mid-'70s was a failure. The filmmaker's furiously inventive and imaginative movie never made it to the big screen, but man ... what a trip it would've been, at least certainly judging by Frank Pavich's hypnotically fascinating documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune," showing tonight at 7 p.m. at the UWM Union Theatre.
Published March 25, 2015
I'm starting to get concerned about Jack O'Connell. First there was "Starred Up," in which he plays a violent prison inmate; then he starred in the two-hour beatdown-palooza that was "Unbroken." And now there's "'71," which doesn't even get five seconds in before it's punching O'Connell in the face and dragging him through mud. If he insists on essentially self-flagellating on screen, though, at least it's in the service of a quite good movie.
Published March 25, 2015
2015 is shaping up to be a world tour of beloved classic rock stars. The Rolling Stones are expected to announce a Milwaukee stop ... at some point. Ringo Starr is heading to the Riverside in October, the same month The Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Also celebrating 50 years of existence: Pink Floyd, hitting the Riverside stage Thursday and Friday night. Well, kind of - in the form of tribute band Brit Floyd.
Published March 23, 2015
If "Divergent" was like "The Hunger Games" took a brick to the head, then "Insurgent" plays like "The Hunger Games" got lost in a brick hail storm. The sequel doubles down on the idiocy, incoherence and creative kleptomania the first film struggled through. Part one made it palatable; part two makes it laughable.
Published March 21, 2015
Early on in the 2014-15 season, the Milwaukee Rep staged "The Color Purple." It's a show actress Felicia P. Fields knows very well; after all, her turn as Sofia in the Broadway musical scored her a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical back in 2006. It's another familiar show, however, that brings Fields back to Milwaukee: "Low Down Dirty Blues," a celebration of classic blues at its deepest and dirtiest.
Published March 21, 2015
Vampires have gotten a bad rap over the last decade or so,but while the recent vampire trend has provided some pretty craterous, sell-out lows, it's also spawned a fair amount of impressive highs for the notorious neck-nibblers. For example: "What We Do in the Shadows," a hilarious New Zealand import that gushes goofy laughs like a comedy hemophiliac.