Artist-designed but community-made quilts honor members of TD ‘family’
For over a month, students, fellows, and staff members in Timothy Dwight College (TD) have enjoyed peering up toward the dining hall ceiling to look at two brightly colored quilts. Some even feel a little bit like they are being “watched over” by someone they love.
The quilts, unveiled on April 8, were created as part of a collaborative art project in the college with celebrated artist Faith Ringgold. One quilt, bearing the word “Family,” depicts drawings by nine TD affiliates of family members (mothers, fathers, a grandparent, a sibling, or other kin) with whom they have a close attachment. The other is a tribute to Sylvia Ardyn Boone (1942-1993), the first African American female scholar to receive tenure at Yale, who was a resident fellow of TD. Boone taught in the Department of the History of Art before her sudden death.
The quilts — unveiled during TD’s annual Berry Brunch — were created during Ringgold’s visit to Yale earlier in the semester as a Chubb Fellow. In addition to delivering a public lecture in which she described her long career as an artist, educator, and activist, Ringgold also led an art workshop with TD students, staff members, and fellows at the suggestion of Mary Lui, TD’s head of college, who administers the Chubb Fellowship.
“TD has an art studio, and I thought it would be phenomenal to have Faith lead a workshop,” says Lui. “She’s 87 years old, so she came with her assistant Grace Matthews and a few others, and led this workshop around the theme of ‘ancestors.’”
Ringgold designed both of the quilts, one styled after her “Quiltuduko” app that uses a Sudoku pattern, for which members of the TD community were invited to submit simple line drawings of a family member who has given them special warmth, guidance, or protection during their time at Yale. Out of those submitted, Ringgold then selected nine of the portraits, each of which was transferred nine times on the 81-square quilt.
For the second quilt, TD students, staff members, and fellows worked together to draw and paint the geometric design created by Ringgold and Matthews that is inspired by Kuba print textiles from Central Africa. Matthews did the final sewing on both quilts.
Altogether about 20 TD affiliates participated in the quilt projects, among them associate head of college Vincent Balbarin (and his and Lui’s son, Octavio); TD fellows Vera Wells (who was a student of Boone’s) and TD resident fellow Lisa Bajwa; and TD staff members KC Mills, Melissa Debies-Carl and Sharon Goldbloom, as well as Lui. A dozen TD students participated, including four who will graduate in May.
“During our workshop, Faith was our taskmaster, and we really got a sense by how she moves, why she’s so prolific an artist,” Lui says. Ringgold, who recently was commissioned by Yale to design new windows for Grace Hopper College, has had a career that spans from the 1960s till today. Her work, which has received many honors, includes paintings, story quilts, and public art installations. Ringgold has also written and illustrated many acclaimed children’s books. She has long been committed to honoring accomplished African American artists by bringing their art and art traditions to adults and children through her Anyone Can Fly Foundation.
While guiding the Yale makers of the quilt during the workshop, Ringgold impressed upon them a message she is fond of sharing with others. “She made us feel that whatever you want to do, you can do it,” says Mills, the operations manager at TD, who worked on the quilt honoring Boone.
Lui invited Ringgold back for the quilt unveiling last month, and says the artist was pleased to see the final results of her collaboration with the TD quilt makers. Also on hand for the unveiling were Yale College Dean Marvin Chun; Risë Nelson, director of the Afro-American Cultural Center; Kate Krier, assistant dean for the arts; Julia Adams, head of Grace Hopper College, and former head of TD College Robert Farris Thompson ’55, ’65 GRD.
“The quilts are truly a community creation, and we all felt very honored to have had Faith lead us in this artistic achievement,” says Lui.