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 June 30, 2016
Pop Motown soul outfit Fitz and the Tantrums burned the house down at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Wednesday night - even if the band wasn't quite dialed up to the scalding, sizzling, record-high temperatures of its past Big Gig visits.
Published June 29, 2016
Hawaii may be thousands of miles - not mention most of an ocean - away from the Cream City, but local pop/hip-hop performer Corey Pieper is doing his best to bring some flavor from the shores of Maui to the shores of Milwaukee.
Published June 28, 2016
What better place to be reminded that it's noon somewhere than at an airport? That's the hope with the new Leinie Lodge, a small but sufficiently sudsy watering hole that opened up this morning inside General Mitchell International Airport.
Published June 28, 2016
You probably thought the opening of Summerfest was going to take up all of the festival spotlight this week. But the joke's on you, as in swoops Milwaukee Film, revealing the first eight highly anticipated selections for this year's festival.
Published June 27, 2016
And now, a very important update concerning the newest member of the Aaron Rodgers-Olivia Munn family, Frankie - not to be confused with Chance, the couple's other dog, who is also very good at Instagram.
Published June 24, 2016
As OnMilwaukee's resident insufferable millennial, it is my job to look at the Summerfest lineup every year, scoff at all the bands and then resume snarkily Snapchatting a GIF-storm. However, there's still a lot worthy of your earholes this year.
Published June 21, 2016
Before the champagne had dried on the Cavaliers' celebration Sunday night, people already began looking for which sports fans were the saddest now that that city's losing streak was over. And wouldn't you know it, it's us. But really, Milwaukee is not the next Cleveland.
Published June 20, 2016
Inspired by an unexpected collaborator located several miles south, Postman's Plot - found on Wells Street and 2nd Street - now has an updated look with a plethora of new seating options and a mailbox to send letters to Milwaukee.
Published June 18, 2016
Businessman and star of CNBC's "The Profit" Marcus Lemonis has obviously gone places since his time at Marquette. But today, he's returned to the Cream City -- and he's apparently bringing some cameras with him.
Published June 13, 2016
The alt pop sister duo of Lily & Madeline have found an infectious combination of mesmerizing mellow music and potent, passionate lyrics. They'll bring that hypnotic mix to the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee on Prospect on Wednesday night.