The Colby College Museum of Art in Maine is the latest American institution to acquire a work by the celebrated and prolific artist Faith Ringgold. The work Coming to Jones Road #4: Under a Blood Red Sky (2000)—a story quilt composed of acrylic on canvas with fabric borders—depicts enslaved Africans traversing the Underground Railroad toward New England under a luminous white moon, and is inscribed with first-person narratives, including the phrase: “By day we prayed for the black of night to come to cover us.”
The piece is one of eight story quilts in the series titled Coming to Jones Road, but unique in that it is the only “story quilt” in the multiple versions that she made of Under Blood Red Sky. Ringgold's story quilts are large visual storybooks made from a combination of painted textiles and sewn elements, akin to brocaded Tibetan thangkas. Ringgold says the series itself was influenced by the hostility and suspicion she suffered when she moved from Harlem to a mostly-white neighbourhood in New Jersey in the early 1990s.
The work will go on view next month, joining another work by Ringgold in the museum’s collection, a print titled The Sunflower’s Quilting Bee at Arles (1997). It was on view in Ringgold’s first European retrospective in 2019 at the Serpentine Galleries in London, which traveled to the Glenstone Museum in Maryland last year and preceded her retrospective currently on view at the New Museum in New York.
Last October, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC announced it had acquired Ringgold’s large-scale painting The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding (1967) with support from the Glenstone Foundation, marking the “most important purchase of a single contemporary artwork since its acquisition of Jackson Pollock’s No. 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) in 1976”, according to Harry Cooper, the museum’s senior curator and head of Modern and contemporary art.
The evocative painting is on view in the New York retrospective, which is coinciding with an exhibition of prints and multiples at ACA Galleries (until 11 June). The New Yorker also features a vibrant piece from Ringgold's Jazz Stories series from 2004 on the cover of the magazine's 28 March edition.
Since the 1960s, Ringgold (b. 1930; Harlem) has created works that consider themes of racial tension, political division and resilience, championing the stories of Black figures and women. Her works, which also span performance art and writings, are held in other major museum collections like the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
Colby College's acquisition has “art-historical and cultural significance, due to its subject and layered meanings, its visually rich form and in the context of Ringgold’s broader contributions to the visual art and literary worlds”, according to Jacqueline Terrassa, the museum's director.