Sunday, January 20, 2013

The "Portraits" Project

Emma Jenkins Richardson, My Grandmother, while living in Pensacola, Florida during WW II
Joe Richardson, My Grandfather, while living in Pensacola, FL, During WW II

My grandmother, Emma Jenkins Richardson

JoAnn/Joanne Richardson, My Mother at uncle and aunt's house in Montgomery, Alabama

My Mother as a baby with my grandmother at uncle and aunt's house.
My mother as a baby with my grandfather at uncle and aunt's house.

My mother as a baby

My mother

My mother

My mother JoAnn/Joanne and uncle, Joseph Richardson, as children in 1955

My mother dressed for a program and parade in Montgomery in the 1950s
My mother and uncle at Christmas in Montgomery in the 1950s
My mother and uncle at Christmas in the 1950s

My mother at age 10
My uncle, Joseph Richardson, as May Day King at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Montgomery, with the Queen, a girl named Mary, and baby sister Pam

My mother as First Attendant to May Day Queen at her school

My aunt, Pamela Richardson, as a toddler with her doll and stuffed animal at Christmas

My aunt Pam with her doll at Christmas
My grandmother, Emma Jenkins Richardson, with my mother and aunt Pam
My aunt Pam's graduation from kindergarten

My aunt, Pamela Richardson, as May Day Queen at Booker T. Washington Elementary

Clipping from the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper featuring my aunt as May Day Queen at BTW

My Mother's high school graduation picture (BTW)
My uncle's high school graduation picture (BTW)

My aunt's high school graduation picture (Jeff Davis)

My high school graduation picture (St. Jude Educational Institute)

Images of my grandparents in Pensacola, Florida during WWII in the 1940s, as well as various vintage family photos taken in Montgomery, Alabama beginning in the 1950s that inspired my Portraits Project in Art quilting. The images of my mother and aunt from the 1950s and 1960s with the black dolls that my grandmother would buy them growing up also stand out to me in our family photo collection; also see the post on this blog on "Black Debutantes" for more family photos that have helped to inspire this exhibition.

The Portraits Project

My second solo art quilt exhibition entitled “Portraits II: From Montgomery to Paris” has been very exciting to develop as a follow-up to my first, “Portraits from Montgomery to Paris,” which debuted at Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama July-September 2008 and was also featured at the Carol Tatkon Center Art Gallery at Cornell University in 2011. Four pieces from this show were also featured at the Mairie du 5e in Paris, and two at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in the city when I was invited to the city as a “Cultural Envoy” by the U.S. Embassy in France for the Paris 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. Selected works from this show have also been featured in several other places, including a 2009 exhibition on “Black Debutantes” at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

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. Quilts from “Portrait II” are also featured in Lauren Cross’s film The Skin Quilt Project (2010).

Already, works from “Portraits II” have been in circulation. In January 2009, the very first quilt produced on the road to this new show, which features President Obama, was first presented in Paris, France prior to the inauguration in the U.S. and went on to appear in Roland Freeman’s “Quilts for Obama” at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. for most of that year. It is also featured on the commemorative poster for this monumental quilt exhibition, which went into two encores, including a final encore on request of the Congressional Black Caucus and the mayor of Washington, D.C. My quilt featuring Michelle Obama was added to the final encore of “Quilts for Obama that began in September 2009. The Obama quilts that led off “Portraits II,” as well as those featuring Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison, were also featured in the exhibition at Cornell University at the Carol Tatkon Center Art Gallery. The production team for “Portraits II” is hard at work and very excited about the new show opening in January, 2015 and aims for it to be featured in several venues.

“Portraits” included four series in all, including “Family,” “Paris,” “Political” and “Hollywood.” Smaller series within the “Family Series” include series entitled
“Wedding,” “Baby,” “Self-Portrait,” “Education,” and “Debutante.” Portraits II continues to develop all of the foundational series and incorporates several more, including “Black History,” “African American Literature,” “Alabama Women,” and new versions of “Daughters of Africa” and “Delta,” which I began in the early 1990s. The “Portraits” project recalls May Day celebrations in Montgomery, Alabama dating back to the 1950s, as well as Easter parades, school programs, and birthday celebrations. In the process, it captures a side of black life, particularly in the U.S. South, less frequently discussed. As the 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 words “new form” well speak to the approach that I take to quilting, as do my comments at the opening of the film “A Portrait of the Artist,” which mention my goal of “pushing quilting as far as I can, so that even the question, ‘what is a quilt,’ is ultimately raised.” All of my quilts usually include at least one feature that is challenging to pull off; I refer to them as “special effects.” I once made a casual and offhand list of the eclectic features that constitute my mixed-media quilting style above and beyond the foundational fabrics. They include hats, jewelry, shoes, fingernails, ribbons, eyelashes, synthetic hair, orthodontic braces, buttons, safety pins, boas, fruit, beading, flowers, glasses, mirrors, and ties, among others. The quilts for the new show expand the body of special effects that I incorporate and take my architectural “three-dimensional” quilting style and the notion of the “built quilt” in some new and quite exciting directions. I draw all of the images on my quilts by hand and paint them with fabric or acrylic paints; I do all of the quilting by hand.

Many people describe them as “quilts unlike any I have ever seen before.” Below is a comprehensive listing of the works that so far make up my multi-year “Portraits” project in art quilting, which I began in 1999 and by the time that it culminates in 2015, will have been developing for 15 years.

Portraits II: From Montgomery to Paris (2015)

from Family Series #2, Including Baby and Children, Education, Debutante and Self-Portrait Series, and 5 installations (the show features 8 installation-style quilts in all)

1. “Debutante Daddy: Joe Richardson Presenting Daughter Pamela Richardson As a Debutante in National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Beta Beta Chapter Cotillion, Garrett Coliseum, Montgomery Alabama, Spring 1976” (Joe Richardson, b. July 11, 1915 and Commemorating 100 Years in 2015) (Debutante Series).
Installation-style panel 1 of 3 (Composition 2011- )

2. “Debutante Pamela Richardson Presented by Father, Joe Richardson, at National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Beta Beta Chapter Cotillion, Garrett Coliseum, Montgomery Alabama, Spring 1976; Escorted by Ricky Ross” (Debutante Series) Installation-style panel 2 of 3 (Composition 2011- )

3. “Debutante Mama: Emma Richardson, Mother of Pamela Richardson in National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc. Beta Beta Chapter Cotillion, Garret Coliseum, Montgomery Alabama, Spring 1976” (Debutante Series). Installation-style panel 3 of 3 (Composition 2011- )

4. “JoAnn and ‘Junior Man’ II: Cowboys at Christmas.” Installation-style quilt
Special Thanks to T-Shirt Express for Screenprinting Background Photographs (Composition 2009- )

5. “Pam as Booker T Washington May Day Queen” (Composition 2009- )

6. “Joseph and Mary as Booker T Washington May Day King and Queen”(Composition 2009 - )

7. “Riché Deianne Richardson: Easter Sunday at Maggie Street Baptist Church in Junior Vogue Dress #1 of 3 in All” (Composition2011-)

8. “Riché Deianne Richardson as Jr. Gayfer Girl in 1983 at Age 11 and Dressed for the Group Photo, the First Event after Graduation from Poise-Charm Classes at Gayfers Department Store (formerly Montgomery Fair) in Montgomery Mall"(Family Series, Education Series, Self-Portrait Series) (Composition 2012-13) Special Thanks to T-Shirt Express for the T-Shirt Design and Production

9. “’Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes!’: Keri Diamond Smith and Megan Chereé Smith, School Days at St. John-Resurrection"(Family Series, Education Series) Installation-style quilt (Composition 2005-12)

10. “Keri and Megan: Pink Dresses and Homemade Birthday Cake” (Composition 2011- )
Bea: Remembering 30 Years in Elba, Alabama as a School Teacher (Family Series, Education Series)

11. “Riché Deianne Richardson: On Profile in the State of Alabama” (Self-Portrait) (2011- )

Political Series

12. “Obama Time: Always (Congratulations, Mr. President!)” (Composition 2008-09)

13. “The Magnificent Michelle Obama, Our First Lady: ‘Strength and Honor are Her Clothing’(Proverbs 31: 25)”(Political Series) (Composition 2009)

14. “Mary McLeod Bethune: One of America’s Greatest Sweethearts and the World’s Best Leaders”(Composition 2012-)

15 "Clarence Thomas’s High Tech Lynching?: Inferior Court Justice to Be"(Political Series) (Composition 2002-12)

16. "Condoleezza Rice: From Birmingham to the White House" (Alabama Women Series, Political Series) (Composition 2011- 2012)

Civil Rights Movement Series

17. “Rosa Parks, Whose ‘No’ in 1955 Launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Was Heard Around the World”(Commemorating 100 Years, 1913-2013) (Civil Rights Movement Series, Black History Series, Alabama Women Series). Dedicated to Georgette Norman (Composition 2006-12)

18. “Johnnie Rebecca Carr, Leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association” (Also Black History Series and Alabama Women Series). Dedicated to Annie Bell and Benjamin Beasley and Alma Lee Jordan (Composition 2012- )

19. “E.D. Nixon: Father of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Civil Rights Movement” (Black History Series) In Memory of E.D. Nixon, Jr., a.k.a. “Nick LaTour” (Composition 2012- )

20. “Angela Davis Free and Standing Against a New Form of American Slavery: The Prison Industrial Complex” (Black History Series and Alabama Women Series) (Composition 2011- )

Paris Series

21. “James Baldwin” (African American Literature Series) (Composition 2012- )

22. “Richard Wright” (African American Literature Series) (Composition 2012- )

23. “Audrey Tautou as Amélie”(Composition 2011)

Hollywood Series

24. “Charleston's Finest: Clark Gable as Rhett Butler" (Composition 2006-12)

25. “’Bope’: Bo and Hope: All Days Always” (Celebrating the History, Beauty and Work of Daytime Television)

26. “Dorothy Dandridge Playing Carmen Jones” Installation-style quilt
(Composition 2012- )

27. “To Sidney Poitier with Love” (Composition 2012-)

28. “The Marvelous Marilyn Monroe” Installation-style quilt (Composition 2011 - )

Black History Series

29. “Daughter of Africa, Mother of African American Literature, Another American Revolution” (Black History Series, African American Literature Series, & New Daughters of Africa Series). Dedicated to Honorée Jeffers (Composition 2010-12)

30. “The Great Abolitionist Frederick Douglass: ‘I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday’; Birthday Unknown but Celebrated February 14” (Black History Series) Dedicated to Class of 2009, Suger High School, Saint-Denis in Paris, France Installation-style quilt (Composition 2010-11)

31. “Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison”(African American Literature Series) (Composition 2010)
“The Vision of W.E.B. Du Bois”(Composition 2012- )

32. “The Talent of Michael Jackson”(Composition 2011-)

Delta Women Series

Delta Family Quilt: Pamela Garrett
Delta Family Quilt: Riché Richardson
Delta Family Quilt: Megan Smith
Delta Family Quilt: Keri Smith
“Adrienne Lance Lucas and Son: Celebrating Delta Leadership, Legacies and Love”

May opt to add three additional works to the show

Portraits from Montgomery to Paris(2008)

from Family Series #1, Including Wedding, Graduation/Education, and Debutante Series, Three Installations, and Artist Self Portraits

1. "Sunday Afternoon on Palafox Street in Pensacola, Florida during WWII": Emma Lue
Jenkins Richardson (Composition 1999-00)

2. Sunday Afternoon on Palafox Street in Pensacola, Florida during WWII: Joe Richardson (Composition 2000-01)

3. "JoAnn and 'Junior Man': Easter Sunday, Montgomery, Alabama, 1954"(Installation)(Composition 2001-04)

4. "Pam's Graduation from Kindergarten at Mrs. Drake's"(Installation) (Composition 2005-08)

5. " JoAnn Richardson: Graduation Picture at Booker Washington High School"(Composition 2005-06)

6. "Joseph Richardson: Graduation Picture at Booker Washington High School"(Composition 2006-07)

7. "Pamela Richardson: Graduation Picture at Jefferson Davis High School"(Composition 2005-08)

8. "The Honeymooners: Celebrating 47 Years: Emma Richardson"(Composition 2005-06)

9. "The Honeymooners: Celebrating 47 Years: Joe Richardson" (Composition 2005-08)

10. Riché Deianne Richardson: Graduation Picture at St. Jude Educational Institute of 'The City of St. Jude' (The Last Camping Place for Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers in 1965) Self-Portrait (Composition period. Special Thanks to Dr. Kelly Gianetti for Sterilized Orthodontic Appliances (Composition 2005-06)

11. Riché Deianne Richardson, Age 17: Debutante Cotillion Program Portrait, 1989" Self-Portrait (Composition 2006-08)

12. "Keri Diamond Smith, Age 17: Debutante Cotillion Program Portrait, 2004"(Composition 2006-08)

13. "Megan Chereé Smith, Age 17: Debutante Cotillion Program Portrait, 2006"(Composition 2006-08)

from Paris Series #1

14. "Playing Venus Hot to Trot?: Josephine Baker"(Commemorating 100 years, 1906-2006)(Composition 2001-05)

15. "Remembering a Dutiful Daughter: Simone de Beauvoir" (Commemorating 100 years, 1908-2008)(Composition 2004-07)

from Political Series #1

16. "The Ties that Bind: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy"(Composition 2002-04)

17. "A Tie, Too?": Malcolm X" (Composition 2002-04)

from Hollywood Series # 1

18. "Playing 'Mammy': Not Hattie McDaniel!"(Composition 2006-08)

19. "Sweet Scarlett?: Vivien Leigh Playing Southern Belle"(Composition 2006-08)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Jr. Gayfer Girl Quilt

"Riché Deianne Richardson as Jr. Gayfer Girl in 1983 at Age 11 and Dressed for the Group Photo, the First Event after Graduation from Poise-Charm Classes at Gayfers Department Store (formerly Montgomery Fair) in Montgomery Mall"(Family Series, Education Series, Self-Portrait Series)

Mixed-media, including paint, jewelry, fabric, synthetic hair, and denim border and backing

Age 11. Posing for photo after graduation fashion show in spring of 1983 from six-week Poise-Charm Course at Montgomery, Mall; am wearing my favorite piece of clothing at the time (other than my Calvins), my white lace ruffled prairie blouse. We had the matching prairie skirt made by a wonderful seamstress named Edwina who had made a few things for me around that time, like my choir uniform for the Tender Golden Voices at Maggie Street Baptist Church. In the poise-charm course, we learned skills such as runway modeling, introductions, poise-pivot turns, how to sit properly, mannequin modeling, and dealing with different accessories on the runway.

Age 14. Photo shoot at Gayfers Department Store for graduates after completing second poise-charm course, "Seventeen's Beautyworks."

Autobiographical reflections

●All New Junior Gayfer Girl Club members, about 25, wore a red lettered T-Shirt with jeans for the 'Class Photo' Taken in Front of Gayfers at Eastdale Mall; the T-Shirt used on this quilt is a replica and recreation made by T-Shirt Express in Ithaca, NY

●In an era when it seemed that if you didn’t have your Calvins, then you weren’t cool, I was wearing Jordache jeans with a gold Jordache belt because of accidentally burning the label off my Calvins when ironing jeans before class one evening in the spring. Was also wearing a pair of white and blue Jordache canvas tennis shoes whose little yarn horse mane I loved.

●Rhea Alfreds was our instructor, and the overall course program, which included "White Gloves and Party Manners" for small girls and "Seventeen's Beautyworks" (influenced by Seventeen Magazine) for older girls, was coordinated by Wanda Marshall.

●I returned to poise-charm classes at Gayfers for the Seventeen's Beautyworks course at age 14.

●Being a Junior Gayfer Girl for two years (from ages 11-13) came with seasonal 10% store discounts (which were nice to get though I actually used the discount just once). Junior Gayfer Girls also had the opportunity to attend the final rehearsal of the annual "Back to School Fashion Show" of the Gayfer Girls downtown at the Davis Theater. The highlight was being asked to stand up together as a club for recognition briefly as the spotlight panned the audience on the actual night of the show.

● I best remember the show where the theme was "Borrowed from the Boys." Fall fashion items such as ties and tams were modeled to the tune of songs such as "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" and the theme of Pink Panther films. Attending the show was the highlight of my summer other than attending the University for Youth at Alabama State University, where my family enrolled me four straight summers between ages 12 and 15 for courses taught by university professors.

●This poise-charm class at Montgomery Mall was my only education in a racially integrated educational setting before I was 22 and started my work on a Ph.D. at Duke.

●The other African American girls in this course were my friend LaShaun Hooks who had told me about it in the first place and urged me to take the course with her; her sister Alicia (who I like her called "Lisa"); Candi Turner; Peaches Oldes; and LeCheryl Lesueur.

●I once saw one of our classmates in a clothing store at the newly remodeled Montgomery Mall in high school, who had by then grown tall like I had, and still had the most amazing long, honey-blond curly locks of hair. When recognized by name, she said hello, smiled warmly and said, "We must have met at Cynthia's," a modeling school. She seemed so sure of it that I didn't have the heart to correct her and mention that we were actually in the class together at Gayfers years earlier and that I'd never attended Cynthia's.

●My grandfather, who took me to my classes which met weekly on Thursday evenings for an hour, was okay with me taking the course mainly because it stressed etiquette and cultivated social graces.

●Gayfers purchased Montgomery Fair in Montgomery in 1970, which is where Rosa Parks was working at the time of her arrest in 1955.

●A few years later when I was 17, my family bought my debutante dress at Gayfers and had it altered by the store's seamstress, an African American woman named Hannah Foster(who had the job Rosa Parks once had when Gayfers was Montgomery Fair). She also tailored a beautiful wardrobe for me in wool gabardine when I was 25 and in graduate school, and made several lovely matching dresses for my cousins Keri and Megan when they were little girls.

●My Grandmother kept her old Montgomery Fair hat box and also used her and my grandfather's credit card that still said "Montgomery Fair" until Dillard's replaced Gayfers in the late 1990s.

Link below to the review I wrote at of Marjabelle Young Stewart and Ann Buchwald’s book What to Do When and Why: At School, At Home, at Parties, in Your Growing World, which I posted on May 25, 2002. Also see Stewart’s White Gloves and Party Manners, the book that inspired the beginning poise-charm course at Gayfers for little girls.

For Savoir-Faire Everywhere

This book was distributed in the first set of poise-charm classes that I took at Gayfers department store in Montgomery, Alabama at age 11. Through weekly drills, we covered topics such as walking on a runway, making regular poise-pivot turns and Dutch boys, climbing stairs, doing introductions, maintaining good posture, and sitting properly, among others. In the end, we had a fashion show at the mall, and membership in the Jr. Gayfer Girl Club was extended to us, along with seasonal store discounts at 10%. This was the spring of 1983 when "Calvins" still meant almost everything and many girls in my class said that Tom Selleck was their favorite actor[I said mine was Billy Dee Williams, LaShaun said Gary Coleman, and Alicia said Nell Carter]; it was before anyone had ever heard of a concept such as the "supermodel." By this I mean that few if any of us in the class had an idea of who Gia Carangi was or what she represented at the time. As I recall, Stewart's book covers numerous questions: How to set a table? How to make introductions? What to do when you lose your best friend or boyfriend- the kinds of relationships that are at best "iffy" from the start? (And this is where I first learned that word, along with a few others, for overall, Stewart addresses her young audience with the grace of Miss Manners and does not condescend to it by watering down her language). How to handle it when you are the target of gossip? She offers a party lexicon, consisting of varieties such as the "come as you are party." She addresses the importance of sending a "bread and butter" note after visiting someone. There are even, I think, a few recipes. And there's a section for filling in your family tree inside the front cover. We never engaged this book directly in our course, but this was reading that I complemented by poring over illustrated sections on "social graces" in one of the old and very thick dictionaries in our house, which seemed to cover just about everything. I was disappointed that in a later charm course I took at age 14, the official book was one from Seventeen magazine and more focused on makeup instead of the development of social skills along the lines of Stewart's book. I even read and referred to her book many times throughout my early teen years. I finally passed my much-loved copy on to the preteen little sister of my boyfriend when I was 17, for I was tutoring her in math at the time. In retrospect, this is a book that part of me wishes I'd held on to as a keepsake, for only hindsight has allowed me to understand fully the difference that it helped to make in my social, emotional and personal development and maturation. In general, exposure to a text with that kind of orientation at an early age also introduced me to and gave me a deep love and appreciation for the "how to" genre, and to this day, as an adult working as a university professor and moonlighting as an artist, I regularly mix "how to" books into the range of selections that I read. This book may have also put me on the road to cultivating a love for books in the self-help genre, though I don't always have a lot of time to read these kinds of selections. The world has changed a lot since this book's first publication date, and with all the complex issues youth often face in and beyond school settings these days, it may well come across to some as dated and old-fashioned. But I think that there is a timeless quality about it that would make it work for any time.