A Garden Party for Art

Get out your most imaginative attire and join us in the garden alive with colorful plants and flowers, live music, dancing, great food and wonderful guests. One hundred percent of the ticket proceeds will be used to keep the foundation’s mission alive….

“The difficult we’ll do right now,

the impossible will take a little while.”Billie Holiday 

(From a Faith Ringgold garden party invitation)

Faith Ringgold's drawing of her 1999 partyFaith Ringgold says she loves “to be able to look at the garden the first thing every morning and I love to paint the green in as many ways as I can.” Ringgold’s garden was created for the artist between March and August 1999 by William I. Koenig, a local landscape architect and his son, after the second-floor studio was completed.

View of Ringgold's backyardFaith Ringgold at the 2015 partyEvery year on a Sunday in June, Faith Ringgold hosts a party in the garden of her Englewood, New Jersey home to benefit the anyone Can Fly Foundation. The foundation’s mission is “to expand the art establishment's canon to include artists of the African Diaspora and to introduce the great masters of African American art and their art traditions to kids as well as adult audiences.”

The 2016 Party

This year's party will be held Sunday, June 26, 2016 from 1 - 4 pm, and will honor the achievement of Norman Lewis.

At 2-2:30 there will be a presentation by Ruth Fine, curator of Procession: the Art of Norman Lewis that opened at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.  The traveling exhibition is at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, June 4 - August 21, 2016.

More party details are here on the Foundation's website. 

2015 honoree Curlee Raven Holton (left) and art collector/police chief William RobinsonThe former Lifetime Achievement winners are: master printmaker, artist Curlee Raven Holton who is the executive director, Experimental Print Institute at Lafayette College and the executive director of the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland and writer/editor Juliette Harris, editor emeritus of the International Review of African American Art (2015); Carolyn Mazloomi, Ph.D, quilt historian, quilt artist, author and curator (2014); Nelson Stevens, painter, print maker and AfriCobra activist (2013); Camille Billops, ceramicist, illustrator and archivist (2012); Sam Gilliam, lyrical abstractionist and Color Field painter (2011); Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, multi-media artist (2010); Margaret Burroughs, artist and DuSable Museum founder (2009); Richard Mayhew, abstract landscapist (2008); Samella Lewis, Ph.D., artist, historian, educator, publisher (2007); David Driskell, artist, historian, educator, art advisor (2005); Elizabeth Catlett, sculptor, printmaker (2006); and Cuesta Benberry, quilt historian and quilt artist (2004).

Invitation for 2010 garden party which honored Arminah Robinson
A 501(c)(3) charitable organization supported by people devoted to the visual arts, the Anyone Can Fly Foundation advances its mission of promoting public awareness of African American artists by supporting a number of initiatives including grants to scholars, the Art for Kids program in elementary schools, and maintaining a web resource of video interviews, essays and documentary materials on African American art.

The 2005 Party

Art historian Moira Roth attends the garden parties and makes journal entries during her visits.  The following are her journal excerpts from 2005. That year’s lifetime award winner was David Driskell.

Faith Rinngold and 2007 honoree Samella LewisJUNE 25, 2005

I arrive in the late afternoon, and five of us go off to dinner. Faith Ringgold is in great form. I have just come from New York City, where I spent time with Martha Rosler and Nancy Spero, as part of my research for a Drawing Center essay on art and the Vietnam War, so the 1960s and early 1970s are very much on my mind. Ringgold reminisces about the “liberated” Venice Biennale. In 1970 a group of artists, including Claes Oldenburg, Robert Morris, Carl Andre and Andy Warhol, had withdrawn their work from Venice, as an act of political protest about the invasion of Cambodia and other contemporary events, and intended to show it in New York.  Ringgold and others, however, successfully challenged this “as is” exhibition, insisting that women, artists of color and students be included.  She gleefully imitates some of the exchanges she had with the superstars.

JUNE 26, 2005

Richard Mayhew, 2008 honoree, and daughter Ina Ringgold's daughter Barbara Wallace with 2006 honoree Elizabeth CatlettI sleep in the room off her (Ringgold’s) studio on the second floor, getting up early in order to begin recording in photographs and my journal different moments of Faith Ringgold’s 7th Garden Party, in part an annual fundraiser of her Anyone Can Fly Foundation.  It is an event that I have attended most years since it stared in 1999.

There are many clocks in this two-story house, all gracefully marking time.

A large old flat wall clock in my room has “Turandot” inscribed on it and sports a portrait of a women’s head with a fanciful headdress. I stand by the window that overlooks the long garden in the back of the Quilt art made for 2006 honoree David Driskellhouse, where some 10 shade-sun umbrellas have been set up. Looking down, I think about how many hours will elapse before the guests arrive, the musicians begin to play, the food is served, speeches are given describing the Foundation’s activities, and Maunder (a Foundation fellow) will present her current project, and David Driskell will receive the lifetime achievement award from the Foundation. As always there will be a wonderful mixture of guests, many of them regulars at this occasion.

Faith Ringgold presents award to David DriskellIn the studio, also on the second floor, there are two clocks. One is a flamboyant blue-and-red neon clock that no longer tells time (Ringgold now use it as a night light), and the other is one of the house’s three atomic clocks which keep precise track of the seconds, hours, days, months and years.  Downstairs there is another atomic clock in the kitchen and a more lively wall clock — a “bird song” clock that each hour emits the sounds of a different bird.

Quilt art made for 2004 honoree Cuesta BenberryThe sound of time continues downstairs in the basement where there is the constant ticking of a pendulum clock decorated with a scene of birds and flowers.

“And I never notice time,” Faith Ringgold says laughingly as she joins us (Barbara Wallace, her daughter, and myself) in the kitchen.

Birdhouse in Ringgold's back yardI go to the living room to look out at the preparations in the garden, where Burdette, Ringgold’s husband, is checking out last minute details. I wander around, looking at the familiar miniature wooden structures of the pagoda, the hut and a little gabled edifice for birds.  At the back of the garden, the pool, unlike previous years, is dry; three rather ratty-looking fake swans perch on its rocks. When looking toward the back of the garden and its tall trees, I’m always amazed to realize how literally it is the model from some of the “Jones Road” series [Ringgold’s visual and text narrative about fugitives from slavery who settle in New Jersey]. 

Ringgold's granddaughter Faith Wallace Ganser and daughter Barbara Wallace assist with the party preparationsAll morning, amidst the bustle of activities and preparations (including a dramatic, long phone call that Ringgold makes to Elizabeth Catlett in Mexico) the house, like the garden, gives off a sense of expectancy, of waiting. 

The studio walls are decorated not only with Ringgold’s work but also children’s art (a project showing kids’ responses to Horace Pippin and Romare Bearden), together with work by other artists to be auctioned today. For the first time, I really study Ringgold’s current “Jazz” series that she has been at work on since 2003 and note how some of its prints complement the “Aunt Emmy” and “Coming to Jones Road.”

Garden party tent in Ringgold's back yard2 p.m. Faith has returned from a wedding she attended, and there is a lot of last-minute work on price lists of artwork for the fundraiser, and all.

2:30 p.m.  There is an increasing sense of Command Headquarters here, with all the walkie-talkies, and the catering folk (Copelands, the same company, comes every year from Harlem) bustling in to set up lavish food and drinks.

David Driskell and printmaker Bob Blackburn at garden party
3:30 p.m. David Driskell appears. I am deeply stuck by his presence and sweetness. He and I sit in the living room talking about his mother-in-law (who is 93 and lives with him and his wife) and about age and archives. He has some 50,000 documents that include Secluded area of the deep yard.many letters and transcribed interviews. He describes meeting Mary Beattie Brady of the Harmon Foundation and how the Foundation supported his first visit to Europe. He speaks also of an intense later visit to apartheid South Africa in 1972 in which he informed the U.S. State Department organizers that he would not lecture to a segregated audience, and was assured that that will not be the case. The audience at Stellenbosh University was indeed mixed; however, the Bright spots of color fill the house and yardwhite members were students and faculty, and the black members, all in their best clothing, were the university’s ground people and janitors who had been given time off to attend Driskell’s lecture.

Grace Matthews, Faith and Birdie Dancing at 2005 Party, acrylic on canvas, 8 x 104:00 p.m. The party begins and the guests assemble in the garden, some strolling around, but most sitting at tables.

Moira Roth is Trefethen Professor of Art History at Mills College.

Family Affair

Michele Wallace with a quest at the 2014 garden party. Photo: Rafaelina TineoMichele Wallace with artist & Anyone Can Fly Foundation volunteer Gail Leibig (left) with Foundation volunteer Penny Dell and her husband, David Dell. Photo: Rafaelina TineoThe annual garden parties are family affairs both in the sense of the art family — the kindred art community which has coalesced though many years of support of the Foundation — and in the personal involvement of Faith Ringgold's family.  In addition to Ringgold's daughter, Barbara Wallace and two granddaughters, Ringgold's daughter Michele Wallace is integrally involved in planning, hosting and documenting the event.

The party events flow from the backyard to Faith Ringgld's studio on the second floor of her home.

Related: Faith Ringgold, Who I Am and Why  

This article begins with a multi-generational history. A long line of enterprising, artistically talented and mostly unknown women laid the foundation for Faith Ringgold to fulfill her dream of being a professional artist at a time when hardly anyone knew that African American women could work and excel as visual artists.