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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Summer Reading & Listening - Truth Is On Its Way: A Celebration of Literature

When I was a girl, the Carnegie Library in my neighborhood adhered to a strict code of separating child and adult literature. If you were underage, the check-out librarian would not allow you to borrow books the library deemed not suited for your age and maturity. Also, the children's librarian knew all of the titles in her room, and kept a close eye on those of us who where known for sneaking upstairs. I was often successful in my quest to read what adults were reading.

This post began as a continuation of A Celebration of Children's Books, but since I am remembering the absurdity of strict lines, this post is for anyone interested in good books.

I am rereading Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Be sure to purchase the edition that includes Margaret Washington's introduction and annotations. Washington introduces the life and times of Sojourner through historical reference to legacy, northern slavery, the African-Dutch perspective, spirituality, womanhood and sexuality.

From the introduction:
"Sojourner recruited colored troops for a Michigan regiment. . .met with Harriet Tubman, who had been on the front lines with black soldiers in South Carolina [and desegregated] the Washington, D.C. streetcars. The conductor's refusal to allow her to ride led to a successful lawsuit. It was a victory which cost Sojourner a dislocated shoulder. . ."

Shadowshaper by D.J. Older is the story of Sierra, an inquisitive, intelligent, and artistic young woman interested in understanding her spiritual DNA and her family's connection to magic. Older's books remind me of movies, his prose is expansive, visual and accessible. The story is set in Brooklyn and magic happens all over New York, including Coney Island.

Harriet A. Jacobs was born in 1813 and is one of America's most obscured heroes. For seven years, she lay on her belly in the crawlspace of her grandmother's roof. Jacobs was hiding from Dr. James Norcom, the man who owned her.

Jacobs first published her story in 1857 under the name Linda Brent. Jacobs lived with shame because of what she had been forced to endure sexually. 

In my opinion, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl should be included in mandatory reading lists alongside other profound, historical accounts such as The Diary of Anne Frank.

From Jacobs' introduction:
I have my dear friend - striven faithfully to give a true and just account of my own life in Slavery. . .not to tell you what I have heard but what I have seen. . .and if there is any sympathy to give let it be given to the thousands of slave mothers still in bondage. . .let it plead for their helpless children.
I have the edition edited by Jean Fagan Yellin that also includes Jacob's Introduction, illustrations (including the floor plan of Jacob's hiding place) correspondence and notes.

In the late1960's Nikki Giovanni performed her collection of poems, Truth Is On Its Way, live on PBS. She was accompanied by the New York Community Choir. This performance was a groundbreaking event, and was my introduction to political, self-love poems. I leave you with the poem Nikki Rosa. The choir is singing It Is Well, written by Horatio Spafford and composed by Philip Bliss, first published in 1876.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Do Not Think Of Me As Charity

There are misconceptions. One is that purchasing art helps artists…
Detail, Oba's Crown, © CRB
but helps artists do what?

When ancient civilizations are excavated, the heart of that culture is revealed through the transforming power of that society’s artists manipulation of paints, dyes, clay, thread, fabric, words, glass, and so on, for the creation of pottery, clothes, quilts, sacred beaded objects, poetry and song, to name a few. After the invention of the first wheel, for example,
The Ancestor Table, Inspired by Haitan Drapo

carriages, wagons, cars and other modes of transportation became anecdotal to the extraordinary finds left from the minds and hearts of indigenous artists.

Artists (ancient and contemporary) narrate culture so that sacred revelations are made clear for future generations. Professional artists do not wish to join ranks with some ancient artists who are simply known as anonymous. Instead, professional artists actively seek culturally conscious individuals and philanthropic organizations that wish to participate in legacies of cultures they respect, and even hold dear.

In other words, artists need curators, caretakers committed to the
From the French. . .a Child's Jacket, © CRB
preservation of that artist’s work, who will then bequeath those objects to other interested parties, narrative of meaning and function intact. Factory-made reproductions are then exposed as copies and unworthy of study and documentation.

A modern day example of this unworthiness can be found in the actions of the Smithsonian, a great institution charged with the maintenance and preservation of American culture.

Wise Women Brewing, © CRB
American quilts and quilting, invented by free, enslaved and indentured men, women, and children, is a phenomenon of technical commingling—resources and skill—that created quilt patterns such as Drunkard’s Path, Crazy, Wedding Ring, and Bear Claw, to name a few. The Smithsonian sold these patterns to China

In turn, American consumers now purchase mass produced quilts for $400, instead of a professional artist made quilt for considerably more, depending on style, technique, size and function. One of the quilts, “…the Bible quilt, a symbol-laden 1886 work by Harriet Powers, a freed slave from Georgia [was] pictured in the Spiegel catalogue. Pillow shams and small hooked rugs to match are offered as well.”

If so-called keepers of our culture can sell our birthright to foreign
lands, is it any wonder the average American has no understanding of legacy, or how this legacy is made manifest through the appreciation of artists who narrate it.

Beaded Gourd, Aganju, © CRB

Recently, I spoke with my granddaughters, Renae Green and Timmee Gaines, and great granddaughter, Dakota Livsey, about my Yorùbá, Lùkùmí beadwork and quilts. They understand the magnitude of their responsibility as future curators and caretakers so that no stranger will ever need write scholarly papers, for example, or off-putting, speculative theories based on that writer’s ignorance concerning my intent.

At the next opportunity to speak with professional artists about
Abebe, Yemonja, © CRB
potential commissions and purchases, separate the artist from the work. Remember, we are not charity cases. Remember, we will continue to create, not based (like factories) on potential sales. We create our work because of divine inspiration and directive.

When I purchase art from professional artists, I am participating in the legacy of that artist’s culture.

Ileke, Omolu
If no one ever purchases my work, I will continue because I am a living, active participant in the legacy of my culture. I narrate the heart, beat and soul of people who may not even realize they have hearts and beats and soul. I stimulate the threads of faith in something greater than trinkets massed produced in the United States or abroad. Each piece I create is born of its own transformative power.

Drag Doll Bebe
I am not a charity case. I am not anonymous. I am Cathleen Margaret Richardson Bailey (Ala Ofun):
  • mother of Monica Dorothy Lynn, Kamilah Christine, Lela Margaret and Jasmine Christina
  • daughter of James and Christine Richardson
  • granddaughter of Cathleen and Joseph Shefton, and Boyce and Lela Mae Richardson 
  • great granddaughter of Margaret Maynard, and Bob and Ellen Richardson
  • great great granddaughter of Margaret the Blacksmith and Ben the Bone Thrower, and Lucinda Pickinpack. 

When you purchase my work, you hold authenticity, the heart and beat of my culture. Be prepared to curate.

If you would like to share this post or any of its images, please credit me and include my web address. Thank you.

Signatures of Gods and Men, © CRB 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Imagine The Night

After a long hiatus, I am back in the studio. There was a time when a strict work schedule meant writing in the morning, nap and sewing or beading in the evening. Or sometimes it meant sewing and beading in the morning, nap, and then writing in the evening. In between those work segments, there was eating and some kind of exercise: walking, stretching, yoga, light weights.

Then something happened. After publishing two poetry collections and teaching myself various beading techniques and producing that work, I needed rest. 

For about five months, I rested. Mind you, there was much guilt involved because I kept scolding myself about being lazy, reprimanding myself about my lack of energy: what are you doing? shouldn't you be working?

Then a couple of weeks ago, something happened, something awakened within me. I began cleaning and re-organizing my studio.

After a few days of this re-organization, my creative juices began to flow again. My fingers were itching and the next thing I knew, I was drawing, or my version of drawing, which is doodling. I love sharpie on watercolor paper. 

The end result of that re-introduction to my studio is something I'm calling Imagine the Night. So, of course I made a video of some of the processes that went into its creation.

I like this piece because it allowed me to use some of my favorite techniques: doodling, quilting and painting.

Imagine the Night

Imagine the Night

See information about purchasing Imagine the Night here

What I learned from my hiatus is that the creative mind needs rest. All of those books I read, and movies I watched, and popcorn I popped the old fashioned way on top of the stove, needed to be read and watched and eaten. The mind is a terrible thing to overwork. 

Treat it nicely and it will reward you with many poems, quilts and whatever else you need. Imagine that!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The 9 Commandments of Indie Writing

As a published Indie Writer, I attest to the hard work it takes to complete a manuscript. Family and friends’ “this is good” critiques do not good writers make, neither does moaning about the absence of the muse, or other responsibilities that may take writers away from writing.

The successful Indie Writer:
  1. sets and respects stated/written goals
  2. writes almost everyday (even if the writing space is the kitchen table, or on the bus), and is thinking about writing (characters, structure, tension) almost everyday.
  3. uses time and materials wisely
  4. reads and studies like-minded writers
  5. reads and studies diverse writers
  6. studies what successful authors write about how to become successful authors
  7. understands that the commitment to writing includes studying the craft of writing with the same vigor as the requirement to borrow thousands of dollars for college tuition
  8. finds and commits to writing workshops that challenge, and dare writing into higher heights; and
  9. maintains a side joy, like painting, going to the movies, running, something that has proven to relax the mind so that good writing continues.

The Scottish Chapbook Project

The act of independent writing is not new. For example, chapbooks began as revolutionary items, far from the maddening crowd of traditional publishers’ gloomy downward gaze onto work they had no interest in, or understanding of. Book production was an expensive endeavor; only wealthy people could afford to purchase them. The smaller, inexpensive, sometimes cover-less, chapbook sold by peddlers known as chapmen, appealed to the masses. 

The Sodier's (sic) Return, A Love Song

Today, chapbooks are succinct little ditties, concise renderings of an artist’s voice through poetic verse. Chapbooks are carefully chosen and beautifully bound.

How can a writer encourage, shock, educate, entertain, persuade, and insist, all within the boundaries of 30 – 46 pages? The task is breathtaking and necessary.

If you have a collection of poems that need a home, The Writers’ Press Poetry Chapbook Competition submission period is now open through May 30, 2015.

The Writers’ Press gives great writers the opportunity to publish their great work, retain all independence associated with the concept, and enjoy the confidence and freedom that Indie publishing bestows.

If you are thinking about submitting your work, make sure critical, yet nurturing voices have weighed in on your manuscript. Polish and finesse those poems. 

I promise to carefully read each collection. 

I am looking for potential and excellence.

Further information on indie writing and publishing:
Poets & Writers

Friday, January 16, 2015

When Storytellers Fill Wells

The writers’ block, or more universally, the creative’s block is emotionally linked to emptiness. Years ago, I worked as education coordinator for The Society for Contemporary Crafts. The atmosphere within this institution supported individual artistic growth and expansion. While there, I was introduced to The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

The Artist’s Way can be an extremely difficult book to read and follow because in order to complete the book with integrity, Cameron requires digging into uncomfortable places, those places where self-indulgent pain resides.

Sunday, I visited Storytellers: Truth be Told! presented by The Women of Visions, Inc. The work in this exhibition exposes self-indulgent pain and replaces those old hurts with memory and remedy (how we prevent these atrocities from happening again) and celebration (the requirement of cultural worth.)

Amiri Baraka
(ultrachrome ink, acrylic paint)
Elizabeth Asche Douglas
What I discovered over the years and was reminded of through Storytellers, is that at some point, we learn from our pain, forgive the pain bringers, and see our way into healthy futures. Or, we use pain as comfortable quilts, wrap up in them and scream, without remedy, at the world. This is a hard concept. I think two things are true:
  1. People who bring pain deserve screams, shouts and punishment.
  2. Art requires that artists gradually gravitate to the space of individual healing so that our art defines those tremendous journeys. 

As Elizabeth Asche Douglas writes in her Baraka statement: "storytellers. . .the observers. . .the eyes. . ."

If, as artists, we can express suffering, and leave the blanket of victim-hood behind,
Black Moss/Hainted Trees (detail)
". . .trees. . .beauty and
 substance [and] atrocities."
Laverne Kemp
our art will glow and thrive. People who bring pain deserve screams, shouts and punishment. People who are suffering do not. Non-victim oriented artists understand, commiserate, bathe wounds, teach and heal.

Among many, one of the most trying exercises Cameron insists on in The Artist’s Way is the ritual of free writing, three pages every morning before leaving the bed. Another ritual is filling the well. We are spent, empty, cranky, screaming at the world. The activity of taking a solo artist date, the brave thing of indulging ourselves translates into holy sacrament. Here is one way to love ourselves, nurture ourselves, fill our creative, emotional, psychological and intellectual wells – the simple act of visiting an art gallery, taking in a movie, sitting in a park – something that removes us from the mundane and the requirement to fix things for everyone. The power we receive from this activity, however, is birthed only through the bravery of doing it alone and often.

My post Bulldoze the Wall is a commentary on writers’ block. This post celebrates the artist date and my recent experience of filling the well by visiting Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the work of Women of Visions, through Storytellers: Truth be Told! 

Storytellers, a mixed media exhibition curated by noted painter/printmaker, Ann Tanksley, and Samuel W. Black of the Heinz History Center and president of The African American Museum Association, focuses on storytellers,
 “. . .visualized through modern eyes and…the art of [contemporary] women from [the] African Diaspora. . .”

As it should be, Storytellers opens with three Sandra German (1949-2014) quilts. Known by many artistic titles, I continue to be inspired by Sandra’s work through her Queenship in fabric and free motion quilting.
Sandra German Quilt (detail)

Wendy Kendrick’s Big Mama’s Shadow (mixed media) solidifies the notion that we are bound and advance only by “connecting one generation to the next.”
Big Mama's Shadow
Wendy Kendrick

Leslie Ansley gives us La Vie En Rose (oil on wood panel) to “…capture the innocence and beauty of youth [while coming] to grips with its fading reality.”
La Vie En Rose
Leslie Ansley

The Offering
Shelita Birchett Benash
The Offering by Shelita Birchett Benash suggests remedy through hands-on manipulation of feelings, “…meditation and active prayer…totem…[and the practicing of] creativity as a daily sacred act.” 

Wind Mask
Altha Pittrell

While Altha Pittrell's Wind Mask (earthenware) speaks to ". . .perplexing perfection [and] deja abstraction." 

The contemporary woman whose ancestry is rooted in the African Diaspora authenticates the past, says yes, it indeed happened. She continues to empathize, console, bathe wounds, teach, and by her instruction, heal those who follow her. Monique Luck defines this contemporary woman in Autumn Ruby (mixed media) as “…seasoned and passionate, her wisdom abounds."
Autumn Ruby
Monique Luck

Mah Rhythms (detail)
Nora Musu
What of secrets? How do we build without interruption? Few traditions remain viable without the inclusion of mystery and silence. Nora Musu’s Mah Rhythms (mixed media) allows her work to shout in ways that remain hushed and mysterious through the Mah culture’s initiation rites of young girls.
Mah Rhythms
Nora Musu

Also showing at PCA is Construct, by The Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, Inc. Curated by Sandra Jane Heard, Construct speaks to "the massing of materials . . .deconstruction and removal."

Women of Visions member, Mayota Hill, has a piece in this exhibition as well: Peace Rocket Blast-Off (fiber, rag rug, lace, buttons, fringe, ribbon, beads, rope, plastic bracelets).
Peace Rocket Blast-Off
Mayota Hill

Visit Storytellers: Truth be Told! Pittsburgh Center for the Arts through February 1, 2015.