The Century Walk Corporation

Faith Ringgold - Artist, author

August 31, 2009 — Source: Naperville Sun, The (IL) — Author: Jane Donahue

Like the fictional character Cassie from her award-winning children's book "Tar Beach," Faith Ringgold believes anyone can fly.

Ringgold's journey to becoming a world-renowned artist has not been easy.  As a young African-American woman, she faced many challenges trying to be recognized by the art world.

"I did not turn around and go in the opposite direction," said 78-year-old Ringgold.  "I had a certain perseverance. I was motivated by a lot of people that believed in me."

When Ringgold enrolled in the City College of New York to study art, she was told by a professor that she would never make it as an artist. That only served as motivation for Ringgold, who set out to prove him wrong.

"I became an artist because I wanted to tell my story," Ringgold said. " 'Go away' - I've heard that before. But I didn't - I just kept doing it."

The artist developed her own style, drawing from her personal experiences, people who inspired her, and her African-American heritage. She graduated with a master's degree from the City College of New York in 1959 and aimed to become a professional artist.

Ringgold began as a painter, but is most well-known for her story quilts.  Story quilts are complex works of art, combining painting, quilt-making and fictional narrative.

Locally, her story quilts inspired "River of Life," a piece in the Naperville Century Walk public art collection. In 1999, Naperville students created the clay story quilt, located on the Anderson's Bookshop building in downtown Naperville.

Ringgold's work recently was included in the "World's Greatest Artists" mural, located on the south wall of the Naperville Art League building. Visitors will see Cassie, following her dream to be free to go wherever she wants, as well as a cartoon character that depicts Ringgold.

1. Do you have a favorite piece of art that you created?I would have to say it is a series I have done called "Coming to Jones Road." It really is my feelings about the Underground Railroad, and my way of explaining that whole sort of nomadic view of people that are going through the landscape in search of something - and in this case, it is freedom. The quest for freedom is a motivation that drives people all over the world.

2. Where do you get your ideas for your work?

My ideas come from reflecting on my life and the lives of people I have known. My books and my art are based on my life's experience.

3. How did you become an author and illustrator of children's books?

In 1990, I got a letter from and editor at Random House who had seen my story quilt "Tar Beach."  (The piece is currently in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City). She said the story would make a great children's book and asked me to write "Tar Beach." That is why it is so important to show your work, and to get opportunities to be in public places, so people can see what you are doing. It may in fact help you figure out what you are doing. I didn't set out to write children's books.

4. Did you imagine you would become a world-renowned artist?

People have asked me, "When are you going to get excited?" For me, it's a journey and it's not complete. There is no sense getting caught up in the finality of something - I have seen too many artists do that, and I just don't think I will be one of them.  I just want to move along, and I would prefer to think of my work as an artist as a lifetime of work - because it is not something you have to stop doing because you reach a certain age. It is not something that you get too old to do.

5. What would you tell someone who is struggling to be recognized as an artist or writer?

That is what happens - when someone says "stop" - you must persevere. You keep doing it - you don't stop, because that is what they want you to do. And that is what I tell anyone who comes to me. When you don't get better, it's because you stopped.

Comment at napersun.com

Artist and author Faith Ringgold greets the crowd during the dedication of the "World's Greatest Artists" mural on Tuesday in Naperville.  Ringgold was one of 34 artists featured in the mural, located on the south wall of the Naperville Art League.

Jane Donahue / Special to the Sun


Section: LOCAL NEWS — Page: 4