Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Marvelous Marilyn Monroe: Commemorating 90 Years!















I created my art quilt entitled “The Marvelous Marilyn Monroe” (Composition 2011-2014) in honor of the iconic Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe and wanted to be sure to post it to help commemorate her 90th birthday week (June 1, 2016). It is inspired by one of her most famous performances of all time, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blonds(1953). I remember seeing the singer Madonna’s video for "Material Girl"(1984) when I was a preteen, which references this classic performance by Monroe and became a metaphor for thinking of and referring to Madonna as a singer and cultural phenomenon. Back then, I didn’t have familiarity with Monroe’s performance as the background that inspired Madonna’s in the video.

The latter is intriguing for epitomizing what the theorist Jean Baudrillard describes as the potential of the simulacrum (See Simulacra and Simulation, 1981) to displace and overshadow the real. Ultimately, Monroe emerges as a kind of mentor and muse for Madonna. The unapologetic emphasis on materialism as a basis for establishing relationships is not ideal, but it is interesting that both songs invoke the theme in attempting to school women on dating and relationships. Madonna’s song offers the reminder that “the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right.” Marilyn’s song is amusing to the extent that it advises younger women, in instances when they are doing the unthinkable and dating married men, to “get that ice or else no dice,” kindly confiding to them that “he’s your guy when stocks are high, but beware when they start to descend. It’s then that those louses go back to their spouses, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” The most iconic images from that singing performance show Monroe surrounded by young men in identical black suits, but it's also important to recognize the role that young women dancers dressed in pink play in the scene, including the mentoring relationship that Monroe establishes in relation to all of them. The pink roses that trim my art quilt honoring Monroe allude to them and to this latter woman-to-woman dynamic in the scene, along with the larger roses positioned around its edges, which recall the flowers that they all wore in their hair. This song's main message is later invoked in songs such as Herb Alpert and Janet Jackson’s “Diamonds”(1987). Liz Taylor profoundly suggested it as well.

No woman has ever as fully embraced Marilyn Monroe’s legacy as the model Anna Nicole Smith, who recast it in visually stunning and compelling ways. All of that visual play intrigued me from an artistic standpoint. Years ago, I enjoyed watching the reality show with her beloved dog Sugarpie to get a better sense of who she was. Now, I look forward to checking out the photos of the attire that her daughter Dannielynn and the child's father Larry Birkhead wear to the annual Kentucky Derby, the major public event that Dannielynn has grown up attending. What I find most interesting about the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and the reason that I like it and even believe that it holds some feminist implications, is that it urges women to resist ways in which some men attempt to discard, dismiss and devalue them over time by urging women to keep their focus on the big picture and to invest in themselves instead of seeking elusive or ephemeral forms of validation. In her song, that something as materialistic as a diamond emerges as the "friend" that sticks with and stays true to a woman over time in life, in a way that a man may not, is a limiting message and vision in the end, however. What a Friend We Have in Jesus, to invoke the Christian hymn by that name, is endlessly and supremely powerful and true.

Marilyn Monroe is an inspiration for having reinvented herself and become such a powerful and enduring icon, though the persona that she created limited her and held her captive in some ways. I like her and value her legacy for the cultural impact that she made, then as now. As a preteen, it was interesting to see a character like Paulette Rebchuck in Grease 2(1982) who was so obviously influenced by Monroe in styling and demeanor. Monroe epitomized the "bombshell" model of femininity described in Laren Stover’s book The Bombshell Manual of Style (2001), which affirms that beauty and brains can go together and discusses the characteristics of this type of woman in detail across its rich and revealing chapters. Monroe intrigues me because, in all her uniqueness, she makes me think comparatively about modern womanhood, and reflect on its complexity and diversity at other levels, to the extent that she embodied and helped to set the standard for the modern woman in her time, including what was possible in the way of self-invention and self-definition, even as her iconic, youthful, pale, platinum blond aesthetics ran counter to those of many of her contemporaries who were living life in their own ways outside of the Hollywood limelight and who lacked her global platform, including, say, women who were not as privileged in terms of class or whose lives were defined by a rural, agrarian aesthetic and temporality. In my "Portraits II" quilt show featuring 60 quilts(2015), Marilyn Monroe’s impact on the American cultural imagination as a woman during the 1950s is also important to think about in juxtaposition with Rosa Parks as a woman who changed the world during that time by catalyzing an international freedom movement in 1955 when she remained seated on the city bus in Montgomery. My quilts of both of them that are included in the show underscore these points. My art print cards, as sets, also often juxtapose figures that ideologically don't fit together or that serve as radical and critical points of contrast. For example, I framed Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara (who, with Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, inaugurated the Hollywood Series in my 2008 debut show), alongside Malcolm X, who was represented in the Political Series.

In the early stages of developing this art quilt in 2011, I was thankful to see a wax figure of Monroe on a trip to Los Angeles, as well as her tribute on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and to take pictures. In my “Portraits II” quilt show, the art quilt featuring Marilyn Monroe was a multi-year installation-style project in its construction and falls into the category of “torso quilts,” which draw on principles of engineering, architecture and geometry in their design and incorporate a soundtrack component. Several works in this category, which are replete with lighting and sound effects, help to ground the show, whose centerpiece, at this level, is the Debutante Triple Quilt Installation featuring my grandparents and aunt. Like the quilt featuring Dorothy Dandridge, the Monroe quilt is veiled, which adds to its drama, mystique and theatricality. The quilt of Monroe, which is double the standard weight of my typical torso quilts, is literally shaped like a diamond, in juxtaposition with the rectangular shape of the Dandridge quilt and the triangulated ones in the debutante series. In gallery space when the quilts are on public exhibition, audiences are able to ponder the quilt of Monroe (replete with bosomy cleavage) in a continuum with the one featuring my grandmother formally attired in more reserved evening wear in the debutante series, and to consider the differing and contrasting ways in which both figures beautifully embody what it meant to be a “lady” and “woman” in previous decades. Similarly, in thinking about American culture more generally, one encounters the Kennedy Brothers in the Political Series. However, one is also led to reflect on the great legacy of Marilyn Monroe as an actress in the Hollywood Series. I use an official Monroe costume as the attire in developing this quilt. The beautiful red manicure had to be filled with architectural inserts for pliability and then covered with the gloves, but I know it's there, like so many features on my quilts that are time-consuming to work on and ultimately hidden, covered up and never seen again. The intricate and exhaustive workmanship is important to me to achieve and is part of the creative process that I most savor.

The hot pink on pale pink color scheme was particularly fun to work with as an artist. I kept several Victoria’s Secret shopping bags on hand in my art studio for inspiration in the process as well. The Victoria’s Secret bag is one that I envision as one of the greatest marketing tools ever! I am truly intrigued that the beribboned bag seems to be quite captivating on its own terms for some people who make purchases there. It’s as if one of the main highlights of shopping in the store is to be able walk out with the bag itself, whatever the precious treasure might be that’s carefully tissue-wrapped inside. My preferences for lingerie, and the brands that I like most for their prettiness and comfort, and wear most, are Chantelle and Hanky Panky with dreams of Dior. However, living away from major department stores as I do here in Ithaca, New York, I’ve had to mix in some items from there. One of my cousins once worked there part time when she was in college. My grandmother saw me wearing a Victoria’s Secret nightie (I have about 7 and feel most comfortable sleeping in them) and wanted to know where I got it, and when I told her, asked for something from there for Christmas one year, and so we bought her pajamas to add to her many pretty sets, and a bag from there was among the gifts for her under the tree.

The Victoria’s Secret bag is such a fascinating item. I always cut off and save the ribbons on them and other store bags in that category and put them in a special box that I keep among my art fabrics and textiles, before recycling the bags, for in a world in which so much is needlessly wasted, those cloth features can be reused in a creative way and for art projects down the road. Its typical hot pink/pale pink color scheme mirrors the one in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the basic color scheme for this quilt. The pink colors are some of the main ones associated with love, roses and events like Valentine’s Day. I enjoyed making this art quilt and learned a lot in the process. I am posting it on this blog now in tribute to Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday week, and for her fans. Blessings to her eternally in the Lord.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The "We 'Is' A Family" Album: Richardson News Feautures


Here are some of the selected news features of my core and immediate Richardson family over the years from my Wall of Frames honoring the legacy of my grandparents, Joe Richardson and Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson. This includes the debutante news features of women in my family from over the years, along with those related to some of our federated and civic club activities, Catholic school and Catholic retreat activities, professional activities, and public and civic events, etc. The earliest and perhaps most interesting historical item here is the wedding announcement from the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in 1938 in which my grandparents are included because they were somehow mistaken for white. It was a blessing to find their marriage license on Easter Sunday in 2015 and to lift up the document to discover this very small clipping taped underneath. I will also be sure to add additional May Day news features from the 1960s once I find them, including one highlighting my uncle Joseph Richardson as May Day King in 1963 at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, along with a news feature of myself as a child pictured in the Montgomery Advertiser with my grandmother's Aunt Viney Russell, who lived to be 109, at one of her birthday parties that were celebrated annually by the television and newspaper media in Montgomery. (I will do a separate post at some point featuring some of the news articles related to Aunt Viney and some of the other members of our extended family). The character 'Tildy from Roots, Chicken George's wife, sums up in the post-Emancipation moment the place in the heart that family holds for us and for so many, and that we even love to hear and say now and then because of the beauty in the meaning: "We is a family, and we is going to stay, a family." All glory to the Lord for who He is and for what He provides.


My dear grandparents, Joe Richardson and Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson, married on October 3, 1938, which was also the birthday of my grandfather’s mother Nancy. My grandparents were together for 47 years until we lost my grandfather in 1985, and my grandmother was here for her 75th anniversary. Giving praises and thanks for the remarkable lives that they lived and for their legacy and sending them my love and wishing blessings upon them in heaven. This past Easter, coming across their 1938 marriage certificate felt like a special gift from heaven. My mother recognized the signature of my grandfather’s brother, her beloved Uncle Murray, on the document as one of the witnesses. Taped and hidden away underneath this document was a very small newspaper clipping mentioning “Joe Richardson” and “Emma Lou Jenkins” as one of the 5 “white couples” who had applied for marriage licenses in recent days. This case of mistaken racial identity is absolutely the only way that this information about my grandparents’ marriage made it into the paper, for the Montgomery Advertiser typically relegated black news to the “colored pages” during that time. My grandparents were somehow grouped with all of the “white couples” by mistake. Interestingly, in the wake of the loss of her first husband, my grandmother’s mother Ada was also listed as “white” in the 1910 census, along with her son, my grandmother’s oldest brother later known as “Jack,” though that was not his name back then; this likely happened because of her light skin color, long black curly hair and their light gray eyes. A decade later, in the 1920 census, she and her children with her husband Frank Jenkins, including my grandmother Emma, are all listed as “mulattos.”
"Marriage Licenses." Montgomery Advertiser. October, 1938.
My mother Joanne Richardson's photo as a baby in a local Montgomery magazine; she is being held here by a white woman in the Junior League visiting as a volunteer when she was sick and in the hospital, likely at St. Jude Hospital. My grandmother, a phenomenal archivist, kept her copy of the magazine among her treasures. Who thinks of possibilities like this when they imagine blacks in Montgomery during the 1950s?
My aunt Pamela Richardson featured in the Montgomery Advertiser as the May Day Queen at Booker T. Washington Elementary school in May of 1970. "'Gala Day Festivities Held at Washington Elementary." Montgomery Advertiser. May, 1970.

Debutante news article in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper on April, 1976 featuring my aunt, Pamela Richardson. This is the second part of the feature, which unfolded over two weeks, and was published on April 15 and April 22. This is the feature from April 22. "Phi Delta Kappa Debutantes." Montgomery Advertiser. April 22, 1976.
Riché Richardson featured in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper with fellow debutantes in April, 1989. Chrys Robbins. “Sorority Presents its 19th Annual Debutante Cotillion.” Montgomery Advertiser. April 9, 1989.
A feature that includes an interview with Riché Richardson in the October, 1993 issue of Essence Magazine. Natasha Tarpley. "Voices from the College Front." Essence. October, 1993.
A feature from the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in the 1990s that includes my cousin Keri Smith (seated third from left) as an elementary student at Resurrection Catholic School with a Nigerian sister. Ron Ellis. "Nigerian Nuns Happy to Help in Montgomery." Montgomery Advertiser. March 13, 1999.
Mother's Day feature from the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in the early 2000s that highlighted my grandmother Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson's (and Joe Richardson's) recipe for Italian spaghetti.
Feature in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper highlighting my mother Joanne Richardson's (seated left) work as historian in the Montgomery City Federation of women's clubs. "Club Profiles." Montgomery Advertiser. January 31, 2000.
An early 2000s feature of my aunt, then Pamela Richardson-Smith (standing right), in relation to a community project of the Cosmopolites, her federated club. Deborah Moore. "Federated Club Makes New Year's Presentation." Montgomery Advertiser. January 8, 2004.
My Cousin Keri Smith and her escort featured in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in a close-up of the dance during the minuet in April, 2004. Deborah Hayes Moore. "40 Debutantes, Kudos, Presented at Cotillion." Montgomery Advertiser. April, 2004
My cousin Keri Smith, attending a Catholic retreat as a college sophomore, where she performed as a liturgical dancer. She is pictured here on the cover of the regional newsletter that addressed the impact of Hurricane Katrina. In A Word: A Publication of the Society of the Divine Word. Southern Province. 7(Volume 23). November, 2005.
My cousin Megan Smith featured as a debutante in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in April, 2006. Deborah Hayes Moore. "Phi Delta Kappa Presents Debutantes, Kudos." Montgomery Advertiser. April 16, 2006.
A 2007 feature of Riché Richardson as artist and scholar in the Davis Enterprise. Beth Curda. “Professor Pays Tribute to Her Southern Roots.” Davis Enterprise. February 28, 2007.
Riché Richardson as the pick to feature in Paris on Inauguration Day, 2009 in the ParisDailyPhoto. Eric Lieu. “Quilt, Always.” ParisDailyPhoto. January 20, 2009.
Riché Richardson featured as an artist in the Cornell Chronicle. Daniel Aloi. "Artist Shares Her Cultural Quilts with Parisians." Cornell Chronicle. January 23, 2009.
Riché Richardson featured in Ezra magazine, Cornell University. Summer 2009. Daniel Aloi. "Riché Richardson Shares Her Art Quilts and American Perspective as a Cultural Envoy in Paris." Ezra. Summer, 2009.
My cousin Megan Smith's former work as production assistant at a business magazine. Amazingly, when I was a little girl, my mother Joanne Richardson also worked in publishing at a business magazine called Business Review Edition in Executive Park in Montgomery during the mid-70s when she was in her 20s.
Riché Richardson featured in the Montgomery Advertiser as a participant, along with Montgomery postmaster Donald Snipes and Rosa Parks Museum Director Georgette Norman in the historic unveiling of a U.S. postage stamp honoring Rosa Parks's 100th birthday, taken during the gala celebration in Montgomery. Associated Press. "Postal Service Unveils Stamp Honoring Rosa Parks." Montgomery Advertiser. February 5, 2013.
Riché Richardson featured in the Ithaca Times in tandem with talk honoring Rosa Parks's 100th birthday. Rob Montana. “Cornell Professor Speaking about Rosa Parks Legacy at Cornell, National Museum.” Ithaca Times. February 6, 2013.
My aunt Pamela R. Garrett (standing far right), a current member and former president, featured in the full-page feature on the Cosmopolites Civic Club in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in honor of the organization's 75th anniversary. Deborah Hayes Moore. "75 Years and Counting: Cosmopolites Civic Club Celebrates 75 years in Montgomery and Counting." Montgomery Advertiser. June 15, 2014.
A view of the Debutante Triple-Quilt Installation that reproduces my aunt Pamela Richardson's 1976 debutante cotillion and features her, along with my grandparents, Joe Richardson and Emma Richardson. Rebecca Burylo. “Quilt Artist Honors Civil Rights, Southern Roots.” Montgomery Advertiser. January 11, 2015.
Riché Richardson. “Can We Please, Finally, Get Rid of ‘Aunt Jemima’?” “Room for Debate.” New York Times. June 24, 2015
Various views of the "Wall of Frames" dedicated to my family in my home office. Framed copies of all the newspaper features of the women in my family as debutantes across generations are on display above my desk and complement the debutante photos of women in my family and other photos of us that I keep on the vanity in my bedroom. Various other news features are in the section to the right.

Vintage family photos and various others that have in some cases inspired my art quilts are included on my artist website at http://www.richerichardson.com/#!vintage-family-photos/efizr

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Biography of Riché Richardson for the 2015 “Portraits” Art Quilt Exhibition

Exhibition Title: "Portraits II: From Montgomery to Paris"

Location: Troy University's Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama

Dates: January 10, 2015 - March 27, 2015


July 7, 2014, Standing at Bus Stop on Seneca St. in Ithaca, New York


December 17, 2010, Home in Montgomery, Alabama for the Holidays


January 14, 2009, Giving Talk at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence, Paris, France


August 15, 2008, Dialoging with 4th and 5th Graders from E.D. Nixon Elementary School in Gallery Room at Rosa Parks Museum during the First "Portraits" Art Quilt Show, Montgomery, Alabama

Curator: Daniel Neil with Georgette Norman

Riché Richardson, who was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, made her first portrait art quilt in 1999 and has been developing this project for the past 15 years. She has been diligent in producing various crafts since her childhood from as early as age nine, when she first began to focus on sewing, crocheting and collecting dolls. She taught herself to knit and also eventually made some soft-sculpture dolls during her teen years. Her beautiful art quilts are often described by people who have seen them on exhibition as quilts unlike any that they have ever seen before, as evidenced in the nearly 60 pieces featured here, which also include some of her earliest work.

The distinct signature style of portrait art quilting that she has developed draws on intricate design techniques and incorporates painting and mixed-media to produce hand-stitched, richly detailed, three-dimensional quilts. Her art quilts often unfold as multi-year projects and in some cases have taken several years to develop. With felt providing their foundational fabric and form, her quilting subjects are drawn and painted in a classic style and designed with features such as synthetic hair, eyelashes, and fingernails. They incorporate an eclectic range of materials, including hats, jewelry, shoes, ribbons, orthodontic braces, buttons, safety pins, boas, fruit, beading, flowers, eye glasses, mirrors, and ties, among other items. Her second solo art quilt exhibition, Portraits II: From Montgomery to Paris: The Appliqué Art Quilts of Riché Deianne Richardson, pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other anniversaries in Civil Rights Movement history this year. It is dedicated to the memories of her grandparents, Joe Richardson and Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson. This exhibition expands the range of special effects that she incorporates in developing her art quilts and takes her architectural quilting style and the notion of the “built quilt” in some new and quite exciting directions. Thematically speaking, Portraits II continues to develop all of the foundational series of her first quilt show, which debuted at Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum in 2oo8, and incorporates several more series. The multiple series in which her portrait art quilts are developed include “Family,” “Political,” “Paris,” “Hollywood,” “Black History,” “The Civil Rights Movement,” “African American Literature,” and “Alabama Women,” and new versions of “Daughters of Africa” and “Delta.” In 2013, Richardson served as the invited speaker at the Rosa Parks Museum’s gala 100th birthday celebration of Rosa Parks and donated her quilt in honor of the heroine to the museum, which features this piece in its permanent collection.

The family quilts recall May Day celebrations in Montgomery, Alabama dating back to the 1960s, as well as Easter parades, school programs, and birthday celebrations. They recreate family debutante portraits from the 1970s to the 2000s. In the process, they capture a side of black life, particularly in the U.S. South, less frequently discussed. As curator Georgette Norman describes “Portraits” in the 2008 catalog for the show at Rosa Parks Museum, it “draws on aspects of Montgomery and Civil Rights history, but focuses on family showing the dignity and beauty that always existed . . . Portraits . . . captures in new form family photos and memories, and also treats political and cultural figures from Martin Luther King to Scarlett O’Hara.“ The new show is grounded by a Montgomery Bus Boycott Series that features quilts honoring Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a tribute to the 60th anniversary year of the historic movement that helps to lead off commemorations in the city of Montgomery in 2015. It features several large installation-style “torso quilts,” including the large triple quilt installation in the debutante series, which is replete with digital media such as light and sound features and also draws on principles of geometry, engineering, and architecture in its development.

The body of quilts from “Portraits” is the subject of the short film by Anne Crémieux and Géraldine Chouard entitled A Portrait of the Artist (2008), which was shot on location in Paris, France, and highlighted an interview with the scholar Patricia A. Turner. Pat Turner also discusses the “Portraits” project in her book Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters (2009). Quilts from “Portraits” are featured in Lauren Cross’s film The Skin Quilt Project (2010). Richardson’s work has been exhibited at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor, New York, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Alabama, the Carol Tatkon Center Art Gallery at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the Mairie du 5e in Paris. In January of 2009 she was invited to Paris as a “Cultural Envoy” by the U.S. Embassy in France for the opening of its national quilt exhibition, “Un Patchwork de Cultures,” under the sponsorship of a grant from the U.S. Department of State in its Speaker Series. On this visit to Paris, she was honored with a talk, reception, exhibition and film screening at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in the city, an event attended by an audience of 150 people.

Riché Richardson has been highly productive as an artist, but she is a scholar who primarily devotes her time to her academic writing and research. She earned her B.A. from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and her Ph.D. from Duke University. She is currently an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University with interests in African American literature, American literature, Southern studies and gender studies. She spent the first 10 years of her academic career teaching at the University of California, Davis (1998-2008). In 2001, she received a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her essays have been published in journals such as American Literature, Mississippi Quarterly, Forum for Modern Language Studies, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, TransAtlantica, the Southern Quarterly, Black Camera, NKA, Phillis, and Technoculture. Her first book, Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), was highlighted by Choice Books among the "Outstanding Academic Titles of 2008," and by Eastern Book Company among the "Outstanding Academic Titles, Humanities, 2008." Her second book examines the U.S. South in relation to black femininity and the national body. Since 2005, she has served as the coeditor of the New Southern Studies book series at the University of Georgia Press, a series that has released 12 books thus far. Most recently, she was invited to join the Delta Research and Educational Foundation’s Sister Scholars Advisory Council. She was initiated in Spelman’s Eta Kappa Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1992 and is currently a member of the Montgomery Alumnae Chapter.