Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art recently acquired Maya’s Quilt of Life, 1989, (acrylic on canvas and painted, dyed and pieced fabrics) by Faith Ringgold, from the art collection of the late author and activist, Maya Angelou. The work hung in Angelou’s home and was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Angelou’s 61st birthday.
Ringgold is well-known for her painted story quilts, which unite a tradition of representational painting with the rich history of quilting in the African-American community. The border of Maya’s Quilt of Life is made from pieced-together fabric that frames Angelou, who is surrounded by flowers in her signature patterned African dress and head wrap. Handwritten texts appear on both sides of the center panel with excerpts from Angelou’s written works: Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie (1971), Gather Together In My Name (1974), The Heart of a Woman (1981), and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1970). Angelou was best known for her acclaimed work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, depicting her life growing up in Stamps, Arkansas with her brother and grandmother.
“We recently welcomed our two-millionth visitor to the museum. Reflecting on this milestone, we recognize our continuing responsibility to engage diverse audiences and expand the American story within our collection,” says Crystal Bridges Director of Curatorial Affairs, Margi Conrads. “This work celebrates the voice of one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century and we are honored to share this American treasure on a broader scale. We also think the work will resonate deeply with our local audiences because of Angelou’s Arkansas roots and the culture of the Ozarks which boasts a long tradition of quilt-making.”
In the coming months, Maya’s Quilt of Life will debut in the 1940s to Now Gallery, alongside other postwar women artists already represented in the collection, such as Elizabeth Catlett, Kara Walker, and Roni Horn, who like Ringgold, cites an important American female author with her work When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes No. 859: A Doubt If It Be Us.
“Maya’s Quilt of Life expands the presence of important black artists in our collection, building on other recent acquisitions of works by artists ranging from Edward Mitchell Bannister to Alma Thomas,” says Crystal Bridges Curator Chad Alligood. At the same time, the work bolsters a key strength of Crystal Bridges’ collection: important women artists of the postwar period. The parallels between Ringgold and Angelou are manifest in this work: both women deploy the power of written word to illuminate the experience of being a black woman in America.”