Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Ancestors and Shonna McDaniels

 As Black (ART) History month comes to an end, I thought it would be interesting to feature an artist who devotes a lot of her art subjects to the history of black women. Her name is Shonna McDaniels. (1964-)


McDaniels has a list of excellent education and credentials. The one I'd like to point out is that she is the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth Art Museum (1996-) in Sacramento, CA. She brings to this position a background as a muralist, teacher, artist and community activist. (Her murals alone number 150 as donations to the cities of Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco.)




Much of her art of black women reaches back to Africa. McDaniels' paintings combine many African motifs including the traditional dress of women in African tribes. 


When asked in an interview what draws her to Africa, she replied, in part," must go back to the past, and understand the past, to have a more productive future..."  This quote reminds me of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS with his show "Finding Your Roots." There is something about knowing your ancestry that informs who you are and how your ancestors have traveled to bring you to this time, this place.



When in Sacramento, do add the Sojourner Truth Art Museum to your "must see" list and enjoy history and the murals of Shonna McDaniels.


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

African Crafts: Gullah Style

 In a wonderful coincidence for Black (ART) History Month, our local PBS channel featured a documentary on the Gullah/Geechee American descendants, who traveled to Sierra Leone, Africa. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn of their ancestors. Also, to share in the ancient crafts that were shared links to all of them.It fit perfectly with today's subject.




The West African crafts included art (last week's blog), clay, weaving and calabash containers. What has passed down through in the United States, in particular, is sewing quilts from cotton scraps and sweet grass basket weaving.




Traditionally, when a man could no longer do the arduous work in the fields, he would contribute to his people by weaving the large baskets needed for sowing and harvesting. In time, the Gullah women began to weave small baskets for storing and serving food. Each family has a signature method of weaving which was handed down from mother to daughter.

These smaller baskets became a collectible art sold to traveler. In fact, today there's a stretch of Highway 17 just North of Mt. Pleasant, SC given the title "Sweetgrass Basket Highway" where you can visit the stands and watch the basket being woven. 






When it came to quilting, Gullah/Geechee quilting was a way of telling a story. In this case, since women usually made the clothes, the knowledge and tradition flows through the females. It's a "strip quilting" method still used on looms in parts of Western Africa. As you look at the quilts, you can see the use of the fabric strips, which is very different from the European method of using small squares.




Many of the quilt stories are personal to the history of the family, while others are a pictorial history of  the people. This woman stands next to her quilt with scenes from the pyramids of Egypt through the trials of slavery and beyond.

They were torn away from their homeland to work along the Southeastern coastal region of the USA. Why? Because they had been growing rice in similar soil conditions in West Africa. They taught the plantation owners/managers how to do it.

They were treated barbarously. Yet, generations later, they still maintain a memory of their ancestry.

The Gullah/Geechee people are a living statement as to the resilience and determination of the soul.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Gullah Life by Jonathan Green

 As we continue to recognize Black ART History Month, one place where art flows directly from Africa to the United States is in the coastal plains and the Sea Islands of 4 southeastern states. The people are known as the "Gullah" and maintain certain features of African language in their "creole" speaking.

As with their language, Gullah people also retained and mixed their African art depictions of art and crafts with their local surroundings.



They are known for their sweet grass basket weaving, quilting, and paintings. One Gullah artist who gained national fame is Jonathan Green, (1955-)



After his military service and studying art, he made the decision he wanted to returned to his roots.As he said, "... the older people were dying... I saw them as the strongest link with Africa of any of the Black American people." 

Green is best known for his vibrant portrayals of Gullah Life both in paintings and lithographs. He grew up near Beaufort, NC, where a large number of Gullah live. 




He said he takes his inspiration from the lively dailiness of life of these West African descendants of slaves as they go about working, playing and celebrating.





Green is the first Gullah descendant to receive a degree in fine art. It was no surprise to his family since he was born with a caul - a membrane covering his head - which in Gullah tradition means someone who would play a special role in the community. They were certainly right about Green's auspicious birth. His Cubism is compared to Picasso while his portrayals of people reminiscent of Diego Rivera. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

George Washington Carver: The Polymath Artist

 February is Black History Month. Of course, that means it's Black ART History Month for this blog. To start February with someone for whom this country should have the highest regard, I point to George Washington Carver (1864?-1943)

In TIME magazine of 1941, Carver was compared to Leonardo (da Vinci) because both were polymaths. They are akin in that polymaths are defined as "people with broad and comprehensive knowledge." We already know that about Leonardo, but not many know Carver in that way.


Yet, Carver, who was born into slavery at an unknown day or date, grew to be a scientist, botanist, educator, inventor and, less known, an artist. He started painting an an early age and continued throughout his life. The TIME article also referred to some 71 of his paintings.

It's a mystery as to why it's difficult to find his paintings in images of reasonable size and resolution. For example, in spite of much online searching, I could not find the a good color/size version of painting shown with him in black & white. It's unfortunate that most of the images of his paintings lack the care and modern techniques applied for anyone as gifted as Carver. 

As a man of deep connection to his roots,Carver strived to use his inventive mind in order to make the lives of the poor and enslaved a bit better. His artist self combined with his inventory self to discover that he could make house paint from motor oil and Alabama earth pigments so as to brighten the homes with his "rich colors for poor people."

"He showed them how through beautiful paint their spaces could reflect their dignity and worth as human beings, as well as create an environment that fed their emotional and spiritual needs through beauty and color."  Clearly, the compassion, the science and the aesthete of a polymath named GW Carver.