Meet Faith Ringgold: A Woman Who Impacted the World with Her Art

In 1963, the series "American People" established her as a voice for women's rights and African-American civil rights.

Faith Ringgold
Photo: Anthony Barboza / Getty Images

We've all heard of someone who can "do it all," but what about an artist who is a painter, writer, speaker, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, and creates impactful narrative quilts? We'd call her Faith Ringgold. Ringgold is an African-American artist who was born on October 8, 1930, in Harlem, New York. She spent much of her childhood with her mother—a fashion designer—who taught her how to sew and work with fabrics, a foreshadowing of what was to come in the 1980s when she began creating her now-iconic quilts.

As a young woman, Ringgold went to the City College of New York to pursue her love of arts. She was told by the school that she should study art education instead and keen on doing anything to pursue her passion, she did, and became an art teacher upon graduating with a B.S. in Fine Arts and Education in 1955. Not one to do something halfway, she also pursued an M.A in art and eight years later in 1967, Ringgold finally had her first show.

Ringgold's first series, entitled "American People," was important, because it focused on the civil rights movements and gave a much-needed voice to the racial tensions of the time. From there, Ringgold moved onto more mixed media work, incorporating acrylic and fabric, creating cloth dolls, soft sculptures, portrait sculptures and African-inspired masks. Through all these artistic endeavors, Ringgold never lost sight of what she believed in and would make posters in support of the Black Panthers and activist Angela Davis.

Throughout working on her art, Ringgold also wanted to share her story by publishing an autobiography, which was rejected. Determined to share her life with the world, Ringgold came up with a new way to do so, by using the technique her mother taught her all of those years ago, she started creating quilts, many of which had writing, which have allowed her to share her art and her story at the same time.

What is so phenomenal about her quilts is that Ringgold didn't stop once she made them. She tried her hand at publishing and has written children's books based off of her quilts such as Tar Beach, which was based on the narrative quilt of the same name.

So, really, what hasn't Ringgold done? She's spent her life pursuing all of her dreams, never taking "no" for answer, teaching us that there is always a solution and truly giving meaning to the phrase "where there's a will there's a way." Ringgold wanted to share her art and her story with the world and at 89 years old, with over 25 awards in the arts and many of her works displayed in noteworthy establishments, we would say she certainly did.

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