|FAITH RINGGOLD: STORY QUILTS
Tar Beach (1988)
On a summer evening, with the day's heat still shimmering from the city sidewalks, a Harlem family retreats to the
cool night air on the tarpaper roof of the apartment house. While the parents chat with neighbors and play cards,
the children are allowed to stay up late eating ice cream and watermelon, lying on blankets and mattresses and
basking in the glow of the city lights under a nighttime sky. From this "tar beach", Cassie Louise Lightfoot is swept
up by the magic of the stars. "Only eight years old and in the third grade", she can fly -- higher even than the
skyscrapers -- and everything she flies over becomes hers. The neighborhood! The ice cream factory! Her
father's union hall! Her proudest possession of all is the George Washington Bridge -- completed on the very day
in 1931 when she was born, and shining in the night "like a giant diamond necklace".
Tar Beach is the story of Cassie Lightfoot's wonderful fantasy, told from the perspective of an artist who fondly
remembers the hopes and dreams of a young child. Born in Harlem in 1930, Faith Ringgold recalls the special
evenings she and her family spent on their own tarpaper "beach", and how it felt to fall asleep under the stars
surrounded by skyscrapers, dreaming that she "owned all that I could see." She too could "fly" - in her dreams,
anyway -- carried aloft not by the stars but by her own imagination.
As far back as she could remember, her dreams had always included becoming an artist -- but even she could not
have imagined that one day she would help create a new art form! Ringgold's story quilts are unique works that
merge the arts of painting, quilt making and storytelling -- with elements of history, autobiography and pure fantasy
thrown in, as well. Many, such as Tar Beach, qualify as both literature and visual art: here, Cassie's words are
written down and incorporated within the colorful patchwork border that surrounds the main fabric painting. It is not
surprising that Ringgold was asked to turn this charming story quilt into a storybook, introducing Cassie Lightfoot to
children everywhere. In this session of GalleryTime we too meet Cassie through Ringgold's artwork and storybook
- and create our own story quilts.