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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
© CRB

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
Reincarnation
© CRB
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
© CRB
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
© CRB
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 
Cathleen

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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Celebration of Children's Books

Sometimes jewels are hidden in common places, like Family Dollar, where I found a 4-movie DVD that included Honeydripper (Danny Glover, Charles Dutton & Vondie Curtis; written, directed and edited by John Sayles); Sophie and the Moonhanger (Lynn Witfield, Patricia Richardson); Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad (Courtney B. Vance, Tim Reid, Glynn Turman; written by Diana Braithwaite, Nancy Trites Botkin & Peter Mohan); and NightJohn (Lorraine Toussant, Allison Jones, Beau Bridges; teleplay by Bill Cain, based on the book by Gary Paulsen).

Honeydripper is the classic what we need is a good musician for this juke joint, story. The action is slow, somewhat predictable, but Danny Glover and Charles Dutton command stage and screen. In that regard, Honeydripper kept my interest, though I thought the production would be best suited for theater.

Sophie and the Moonhanger is the stereotypical story of the southern white woman/black woman best friend relationship, even though the black woman is the nanny and maid. The black woman provides the experiences by which the white woman can choose the moral high ground, and in so doing, makes the story hers. Lynn Whitfield is always good. I do like Patricia Richardson, also.

Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad is that story; the plot is in the title. What makes this film a little different is Courtney Vance who, although still a slave and riding with his master to catch and return runaways, in the end, chooses differently. In that regard, the film was refreshing because of a more honest representation of this slave man and the twist and turns he chooses.

NightJohn is the one I really want to write about, because this post is a celebration of children's books. The book, NightJohn, was written by one of my favorite authors, Gary Paulsen. The film introduces Allison Jones, who plays the lead role, Sarny, a young girl whose hunger for learning makes her realize that reading also leads to critical thinking. In the end and although punishment abounds, Sarny unravels difficulty and sets up a trick bag for the white slave owners. Everyone should read this book. Gary Paulsen writes mainly children’s books, but he tells good stories, and does not write for specific age groups (although publishers provide age group appropriate notations). Other books I enjoyed by Gary Paulsen are:

  1. Dog Song, a mystical journey for a young Inuit boy bored with the life his community as come to accept.
  2. How Angel Petterson Got His Wings, I laughed.
  3. Harris and Me, I laughed and cried.
  4. The Hatchet series (including Brian’s Hunt, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Winter)
  5. The Beet Fields, Memories of a Sixteenth Summer (autobiographical)
  6. The Crossing, and
  7. The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West. From the Forward of this book, Paulsen writes:
Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Hole in the Wall Gang were a group of train and bank robbers. Because of Hollywood, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, they’ve become known as raffish, almost lovable scoundrels…[but, they] were criminals…stole cattle and horses. They were thugs who attacked unarmed men and innocent women and children.
 The Forward continues:
Bass Reeves
He…was the most successful federal marshal in the history of the United States. He [rode] alone into hideouts containing whole gangs of fugitives to get his man. In these attempts he was the target of hundreds of rounds of gunfire. His hat and clothes were riddled with bullets, his horses were killed…rifles shot to pieces…Miraculously he was never wounded. His name was Bass Reeves. He was an African American.

The following is a list of my other favorite children's books, which include:

Ellen Tebbits, by Beverly Cleary. I read Cleary’s books as a child growing up in the 1950’s. My granddaughter, Renae, read Cleary as well. That time gap speaks to Cleary’s timelessness.

Behind the Mountains, by Edwidge Danticat. I am particularly fond of Danticat’s prose, her emphasis on language and how people marked as “other” find solutions.

The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings and John Henrik Clarke

Daydreamers, by Tom Feelings and Eloise Greenfield


You Don't Even Know Me: Stories and Poems About Boys, by Sharon G. Flake

Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, by Eloise Greenfield

Happy to Be Nappy, by bell hooks (poetry)

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, by Wynton Marsalis. Here is Marsalis celebrating jazz greats and poetic form.

Mirandy and Brother Wind, by Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney. This is the book that got my grandson, Marc, interested in reading.

Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold

The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling (I'm a big fan, what can I say. If you have not tackled this series yet, a great way to begin is audio books. The narrator, Jim Dale, is the best. After a while, you're not listening to the "he said" and "she said" because his characterizations tell you who's speaking.)

Small Steps, by Louis Sachar is sequel to the book and movie, Holes. This book continues with Armpit’s story, his new friend Ginny and former friend X-ray.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein

The Minstrel’s Melody, by Eleanora Tate

I think this post may be ongoing. There are so many other books I'm thinking about, but I have forgotten titles and authors. I broke that profound rule: write down your favorite authors and titles.

I hope you will read some of these book and share with the young people in your families.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Grandassa Model - Thank You Elombe Brath, RIP

Recently my friend, Helen Phillips, posted an image to facebook. The image was of a New York street sign honoring The Young Lords. I was unaware of this part of our history and asked Helen to guest blog about the group and her memories of that time.

********

The Young Lords

On Saturday, July 26, 2014, a sign was added to the 111th Street and Lexington Avenue street sign proclaiming that corner Young Lords Way.

 

I was blessed to have witnessed history in the streets. The date was December 28, 1969. It was an exciting time. It was the ending of a decade that had seen much social and political change. James Brown was singing Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud. It was a time of Afro, dashiki, buba and lapa wearing brothers and sisters, and an era of cultural awareness developed because of the heightened struggle for civil rights.

The decade saw the fiasco in Vietnam, the formation of the Black Panther party, and our leaders becoming more vocal in their criticism of non-violent tactics to secure our fundamental rights as human beings used by Dr. King and others.

We saw and heard the oratory and ideas of Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammed, Stokley Carmicheal, H Rap Brown, Leroi Jones and The Last Poets. In the East River Houses or the Projects where I grew up, some of us were undergoing our own cultural/political evolution.

The East River Houses are situated between 102nd Street and 105th Street between the East River and First Avenue. I was 21 with a two year old daughter. My afrocentrism was growing. Ralph McBurney, on age with my older brother, was wearing African clothes, talking about the need for us to have our own religion and God, and us needing to protect ourselves from the man. He was a Yemonja priest who attended the Yoruba Temple on 116 Street. Everyone in the projects thought he was crazy, but by that time, I had Ìlèkè, was in an African dance group and dressed in African inspired clothing (thought I was a Grandassa model..thank you Elombe Brath, RIP, but that's a whole notha history).

1963 Grandassa Models:  Clara Lewis, Nomsa Brath,
Brenda Deaver  and Jean Egyptia Gumbs.


Three days after a snowy Christmas in 1969, the news hit that a church had been taken over by a group of militants. My Mom agreed to watch my daughter while several friends and I walked the ten blocks to the church. We stood outside in support of this group of Puerto Rican activists, known as the Young Lords, who were brazen enough to commandeer The First Spanish United Methodist Church located on 111th Street and Lexington Avenue in East Harlem, aka Spanish Harlem, aka El Barrio. During those days El Barrio was the area from 96th Street to 130th Street between the East River and 5th Avenue. Today, the area starts at 110th Street, rezoned due to gentrification.

The Young Lords

The Young Lords began as a group of Puerto Rican young men from Chicago, who over time re-formed into a political activism party. A branch of the Young Lords began in New York City under the leadership of Felipe Luciano, who was also one of the original Last Poets. They held that church for 11 days. During the takeover, free breakfast, clothing, liberation school, and day care center programs were formed.

On January 8, 1970 the police arrested 106 Young Lords and supporters. Even though the Lords were active in Chicago where the group originated, the church takeover was a defining moment for the group and catapulted the Young Lords into national attention. 

News Conference, January 1970

After the takeover, the Lords continued as community activists in Latino areas of New York as well as Chicago and the West Coast. The party disbanded in the 1970s. With the installation of the new street sign on 111th Street and Lexington Avenue, the Young Lords are ensured a spot in the history and hearts of the residents of Spanish Harlem and beyond.

I am grateful that I grew up on the streets of East Harlem. The experiences shaped me, and many others, into wise adults.

********



Helen Phillips was born and raised in New York and is now living in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. 

She attended Hospital for Special Surgery School of Practical Nursing, received an AS degree and RN diploma at Bronx Community College, a BS in nursing from Medgar Evers College of CUNY and in 1988 received an MS in nursing with a clinical specialty in midwifery from Columbia University.

She has worked as a Certified Nurse Midwife since 1988.
Follow Helen on Facebook

Elombe Brath

Grandassa models

Last Poets (patience, large gaps in recording)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

To Lift As We Climb

Economics is a relationship of value, worth and choices-
let’s do our best to choose the options that support
more of what we care about. . .
--LaKeisha Wolf
Executive Director, Ujamaa Collective

___________


Poet, Claude McKay, defined Pittsburgh's Hill District as the "Crossroads of the World."

Originally owned by Pennsylvania founder, William Penn's grandson, The Hill District became an important stop on the Underground Railroad; is home to musicians, George Benson and Stanley Turrentine; writer August Wilson; entrepreneur, Gus Greenlee, who in answer to black ball players not being allowed to use Forbes Field dressing rooms, built Greenlee Field with 7,500 seats and outdoor lighting; The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential newspapers in the country at that time; photographer, Teeni Harris; and of course the clubs that included The Hurricane, The Loendi, The Aurora and the Crawford Grill.

Greenlee Field
Gus Greenlee



Initially a neighborhood of mixed cultures, The Hill eventually became known as an all black community. The Hill has experienced, and continues to endure, the insistence of change. Some of these changes are culture erasures, others like The Ujamaa Collective, are culture keepers, preserving The Hill District's distinct cultural disposition and ambiance.

The Pittsburgh Courier advertising a Ma Rainey Performance

The Collective began in 2008, when founding member, Celeta Hickman "put forth a call to action." Women responded and The Collective agreed on the mission to "create spaces, opportunities, networks, education and support for women of African descent to grow as entrepreneurs, artisans, and servant-leaders so that we may lift as we climb."

Ujamaa Collective Members

Projects include The Ujamaa Retail Boutique, Entrepreneurship Preparation Program (EPP), Open-Air Marketplace, Start-up Business Incubation, and Agricultural Initiatives.

I am drawn to the Collective because of their commitment to entrepreneurship, and most prominent in the Collective’s list of objectives is the understanding of self-worth, cultural authenticity and the endorsement of "economic development and entrepreneurial activity through cooperative means in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, thereby combating community deterioration."



Recently, I read an article about the writer, James Patterson, donating one million dollars of his money to independent book stores. Patterson says, "The government has stepped in to help banks, automobiles, anything where money is concerned, but nobody seems to care about books…"

Ujamaa Boutique

Patterson's personal endorsement of literature prompted me to think about what I could do. The Collective -- mothers, sisters, grannies, daughters, aunties, friends – are serious about and manifest through community commitments, the "lift as we climb" concept. What better match? Executive Director, LaKeisha Wolf, and I spoke about how my work might benefit the Collective, and we decided on a poetry reading with all proceeds of my books donated to The Collective.

I am excited about this venture, and hope you will join me and poets Bekezela Mguni and Joy Kmt for this night of poetry.



The Ujamaa Collective
1901 Centre Avenue, Suite 100
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Info@UjamaaCollective.Org

(412) 228-5160


Ujamaa Boutique Hours:
Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm
Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm