Ringgold is a pioneering artist and activist whose work sits at the intersection of art, feminism, and the Civil Rights movement. Street Story Quilt is one of Ringgold’s most powerful "story quilts," a genre the artist pioneered in the early 1980s. Such quilts—which were preceded by experiments in unstretched fabric paintings inspired by Tibetan tankas, in some cases, and Kuba designs from Central Africa in others—tell stories about African American life, history, and identity, especially in her resident community of Harlem. Just as stories evoke the Black tradition of folk tales both written and oral, quilting has long been associated with domestic labor, women’s work, and African American craft (including her mother’s and grandmother’s), all of which Ringgold embraces, thereby expanding the category of fine art. Indeed, the artist is adamant in calling her story quilts "paintings" made "in the medium of quilting." Street Story Quilt, her fourth quilt, is a triptych comprised of three pieces of quilted fabric that Ringgold painted with acrylic and embellished with sequins and printed and dyed strips of fabric. Each piece represents the same Harlem facade over three different moments in time. Representing key moments in Ringgold’s narrative arc, each facade, in turn, is comprised of a grid of curtained windows through which schematically-rendered Black figures sometimes pop their heads and evidence of both everyday life and various acts of devastation appears. Underneath the windows Ringgold penned a narrative that is divided into three chapters—The Accident, The Fire, and The Homecoming. Together they tell the tale, one that unfurls over three decades and is narrated by a woman named Gracie, of a young Black boy, A.J. (short for Abraham Lincoln Jones), whose life and family are irreparably impacted by the effects of structural racism and poverty. A.J.’s existence is punctuated by one heartbreak after another: first the loss of his mother and four brothers in a tragic car accident outside their front door, then the death of his father in a fire for which he and his new girlfriend were responsible. After each traumatic event, what the story quilt calls "kick[s] in the ass" that "the black man gets," A.J.’s life descends further into chaos, struggle, heartbreak, culminating with his enlistment in the Vietnam War, from which he returns even more broken than before. With the support of the family’s matriarch, his grandmother Ma Teedy, however, A.J. enters college and begins a far-flung career in computer programming, writing, and acting. Eventually, he returns to the neighborhood, a successful writer and actor, to fulfill a promise to his grandmother. The acquisition of Street Story Quilt in 1990 was shepherded by Lowery Stokes Sims, one of The Met’s earliest curators of contemporary art and its first curator of African descent. Sims championed the acquisition of work of artists of color, women artists, and Indigenous artists during her tenure at The Met between 1972 and 1999.
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Title:Street Story Quilt
Artist:Faith Ringgold (American, born New York, 1930)
Medium:Cotton canvas, acrylic paint, ink marker, dyed and printed cotton, and sequins, sewn to a cotton flannel backing
Dimensions:Overall: 90 in. × 12 ft. (228.6 × 365.8 cm)
Credit Line:Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund and funds from various donors, 1990
Inscription: Handwritten (in panels above each window):
THE STREET / STORY and QUILT / by Faith Ringgold / tie dye fabric by Marquetta Johnson
Part I The Accident
1. Ain nobody on this street gonna ever forget that accident. All them cars piled up right outside this door? An everybody in ‘em dead but Big Al. It wasn’t real. They was just goin to Coney Island for some corn on the cobb. And the next thing we know Big Al was on the side walk screaming “I killed my
2. wife and four of my sons.” And A.J. was holding his father in his arms like he was a baby. Big Al ain kill nobody, the car behind him was at fault. Come drivin thru here like he on a race track. Made a sandwich out of Big Al’s car and a car parked in front of him That bastard
3. died instantly. And a pregnant woman and her husband, going to the hospital to deliver, was in the parked car. They all died too. You might know it was a drunken foot in a stolen car that hit ‘em. We was smellin liquor ‘round here for a month after they cleaned up that mess. Next day 222 come straight. Everybody hit it but me.
4. Sure was strange A.J. didn’t go that day, cause everywhere Big Al went in that big ole Cadillac the whole street had to know it. He got to round up all them five boys, if he ain goin no further than the corner, they all got to go. An A.J. always the first one in the car.
5. But that day they was all callin Big Al from the window “wait for us Daddy.” Some how Big Al didn’t want the boys to go. Just him and Lilly was goin. “You kinds stay home with your granma,” he yelled up to them. Anyhow they all got in the car except A.J. He stayed home with Ma Teedy.
6. They was playin Chinese checkers, and A.J. was winning. I heard Ma Teedy yelling. “Abraham Lincoln Jones,” that was A.J.’s real name, “Boy you cheatin now for true.” “You always say that when I win granma.” And then that horrible crash. And we all rushed to our front windows.
7. A.J. was ten years old when his mother and four brothers died in that car accident. He was the oldest, and they say he was the favorite cause he was so smart. He could remember the whole streets daily numbers by heart, single action, or combinated. Didn’t need no slips. A.J.
8. wrote a dream sheet I’m still playing from. I hit for $2.00 last week on one of A.J.’s tips. He was a wiz kid. Big Al was supposed to be a newspaper writer. Always using a lot of big words. Ain nobody but A.J. know what he talking ‘bout half the time. They say he used to get something in
9. the Amsterdam News now and then, but the only thing I ever seen him write was numbers. And if you wanted a fifth of whiskey after the liquor store closed you could get it from Big AL for twice the price. Or anything else you wanted. Big Al was a hustler. And Lilly was sweet, like a little doll.
10. Lilly and Big Al was just kids when A.J. was born. Thirteen and sixteen that’s all. It was 1952. I remember cause that was the year I come north to stay with my cousin. She lived next door to Ma Teedy. Ma Teedy was having this big wedding for Lilly and Big Al. And Lilly’s
11. big belly was ripping thru her white wedding gown. Lord. I had to drop my bags and sit right to the machine tired as I was from that bus ride. That’s the first I saw Ma Teedy. After that I used to sew all Ma Teedy’s show clothes. She was a singing bar maid at the Sky Lark Bar.
12. “Old Miss Young” that’s what Big Al used to call her. I don’t know how Lilly put up with Big Al. I had to put him outa here one day. Come talkin bout “I sure like to get next to you Miss Gracie.” I told him, “I don’t want no baby-makin man like you.” No sir. Not me.
13. After the accident A.J. and Big Al started drinkin together. You ain never see a big ole 6 ½ foot man with his little boy, and they both drunk. Ma Teedy likena died when she saw ‘em. Big Al took A.J. to stay at his girlfriend’s house. Hussy! She supposed to be Lilly’s
14. best friend. She an Big Al cryin ‘bout how they loved Lilly and all. Standin up there in her see-thru night gown and him in his shorts. Brazen as can be, right in front of A.J. Well God don’t love ugly. They ain gonna have no luck with they sinful ways.
Part 2 The Fire
15. It was Big Al an his girlfriend caused that fire. They wasn’t burnin no garbage either. They was both dead drunk. Now they both dead. An they almost took all us in the house with ‘em. Ain nothing but the will of God control that fire, ‘fore it burn down this house. We all got out in time with a few things. Smoke and water took everything else we had. All left is this burned out sheel, ain fit for a dog to live in.
16. I knew when they give Big Al that janitor job he was gonna mess up. Big Al wasn’t used to workin for nobody. He was a loud mouthed son-of-a-gun, but he was intelligent, had book learnin and pride. You know? He just wasn’t no super. Big Al wasn’t no good after that accident. He couldn’t forgive himself for Lilly an the boy’s death. Just tried to drown his sorrow in that bottle. An May, his girlfriend, wasn’t no better.
17. I seen May the day of the fire shoppin at the supermarket. High as a Georgia pine, pushin a shopin cart full of beer. Say the doctor had her an Big Al on beer now. Taperin ‘em off that whiskey. You know? She should a been shame a herself, quit her good job with the telephone company to lay up there dead drunk all day everyday with Big Al. And ain care who know it either. Say she takin good care of Big Al for Lilly. God rest her soul. Deceitful friend [need to check this last word].
18. They musta been smoking in bed. They ain even know there was no fire, they way they found them layin on the bed buck naked, an all them beer bottles all around them , burned to a crisp. Newspapers and books was piled up to the ceiling all over they apartment. Between all that paper, beer an whatever they was smoking an doin layin up there naked like that they ain had no chance to go nowhere but straight to hell. Or maybe they in heaven, cause we sure in hell.
19. A.J. ran away from home right after Big Al’s funeral. He was picked up a few days later for sellin dope to a cop. Ma Teedy got him off without time. She real dramatic you know. Went cryin and promisin the judge she’d take care of A.J. and keep him in school an all cause he was a minor. Wasn’t but 12 years old.
20. Say what you want to ‘bout Ma Teedy, she was a real woman. She raised Lilly up alone from the time Pa Teedy died. Say he was a cat burgler. The best in the city. Come out a 8th floor fur factory window carryin over $100,000 worth of furs. Landed without a scratch. Came uptown, offed the furs, and got mugged comin out of Mabel’s Rendevous Lounge on 116th Street and 7th Avenue. Two hopheads robbed him an left him for dead with two stab wounds in his chest.
21. That was before I come north. I just know Ma Teedy from livin in the building and singin at the Skylark. I like her cause she a survivor. Always keep herself an her family lookin good. Keep an ice box full of food. And don’t never cry the blues. And she got a lot to cry ‘bout. People’s talk ‘bout her an the Captain of the precinct. Say she needed to quit foolin round with that white man in front of A.J.
22. But aint’ for that for that [error in original] white man A.J. been in reform school stead of the army. An he used to tip off Big Al when the Mafia was comin up town. Now I don’t trust no copy, specially not no white copy. But it if it [error in original] wasn’t for Tom Cassidy all them Teedy’s been in jail from Pa Teedy on down. He cried like a baby at Lilly an her boy’s funeral. You’d a thought that white man was one of the family the way he carried on.
23. Some of them got a heart. They ain’t all out to get us. Big Al been a white man, with his book readin, he’d a been a big shot in this town without the college education. Big Al just never could get no real break in life. Ain none of us can count on nothing but a kick in the ass. God be my judge! That’s the way I see it.
24. A.J. been in trouble every since Big Al died in that fire. Ma Teedy near bout give up tryin with that boy. First he sellin dope, stolen clothes, then he had a little old gal out there turnin tricks for him. An he ain’t but 18 years old. Every morning God send Ma Teedy be down there, “Abraham Lincoln Jones, get your rusty butt up out that bed and wash off some of that funk fore you go to school.” But most days he never did get there.
25. A.J. was growin up now and sometime for days at a time he wouldn’t come home. He dropped out of school and took Big Al’s old job of number controller. You couldn’t tell him nothin now. He collected his slips at his girl friend Tina’s house. She lived over there on Lenox an ‘35th Street. A.J. moved in with her.
26. Tina wasn’t but 16 but she had a head like a old woman. Her mother and father shot each other dead on the corner of 8th Avenue and 125th Street one Sunday morning, with all the people’s goin to church. Say it was like a western movie. So Tina raised heself. She taught A.J. to drive, an bough him his first car for his 13th birthday. He kept it parked in front of her house so Ma Teedy didn’t know ‘bout it.
27. I don’t need to tell you Tina go pregnant for A.J. They had a little boy. We all call him Little A.J., cause he the spittin image of his father. A.J. tried to be a good father to that boy, but he was too young to be a father. He wasn’t but 15 years old when that boy was born.
28. Mojo, the numbers banker, got shot to death in his Cadillac right outside Tina’s apartment one night. Mojo was carryin a lot of money from a drug drop, and it was missin. A.J., Tina and the baby had to run. They rumor was that A.J. and Tina was involved. Somethin ‘bout a maffia [error in original] take over from downtown. Lord! We ain see A.J. for over a year. Tina an the baby went to Jamaica [??], to her peoples, and A.J. hid out in the Bronx.
29. When the Vietnam war come, A.J. went on in the army. I guess that boy was so tired of runnin even that war looked safer than the street. Anyway they found out it was a cop shot Mojo. The same one run Big Al out the numbers so he had to take that super’s job. The cop was workin for the Mafia, so nobody could prove nothing. And Tom Cassidy, the police precinct captain, he retired real quiet to the Bahamas—without so much as a goodbye to Ma Teedy. And they never did come up with that missin money.
Part 3 The Homecoming
30. When A.J. come home from Vietnam his spirit was broken. He come home to Ma Teedy on crutches. I guess he was lucky to be alive. We used to sit and listen to him talkin ‘bout that war for hours. He’d threaten to jump off the roof or step in front of a car and get crushed like his Mama. He was so depressed.
31. Ma Teedy say to him, “What you gonna do ‘bout your ole granma? I still love ya. I don’t care what you had to do over there in Vietnam. Men folks been makin and fightin wars since they said ‘Let’s have us a world!’ They ain gonna stop now. So why I got to lose my boy? I ain got nobody but you. Now you come back here to die? That ain’t nothing new ‘round here. We all dead already. We just ain laid down. Look at this street. Everybody done move, except us that’s trapped, or dead.
32. “No Ma Teedy you ain gonna die like this,” A.J. said, “I’m gonna take you off this street. I’m gonna be somebody granman. I gonna be the writer my father couldn’t be.” “He wasn’t nothin’ but a bum,” she told him. “No my father was a great man, he just had a bad life, but was still a genius. Yea, have to admit, he was. He read everything, and he knew a lot.” “Yeah A.J. honey, but he didn’t do nothing. You do sometin, make you granma proud. Cause I’m tired of cryin at funerals.”
33. And that’s the way she used to talk to him, real quiet like. And before long, A.J. was back in school studyin computer programin, an goin out with the girls again. In no time that boy just picked up all them machines and landed him a good payin job with some computer company downtown. He musta work on that job a year or two. Saved his money. Got on his feet. And the next thing we knew A.J. was gone to Paris. Lord, to be a writer like Big Al never was.
34. Say he had a story to tell, what you call an autobiography. That book made him a best sellin author with a starring role in his own movie. And bless his heart, he done received a Oscar nomination for best actor. Lord God ain’t this something? Now you know, you can’t tell Ma Teedy nothin. She just runnin ‘round here grinning at everybody, bragging on A.J., an cryin in the street she so proud.
35. A.J. due home any minute now. Everybody on the street waitin to see him he comin to get Ma Teedy. Takin her out this burned out building. He promised her when he left for Paris he be back for her. He knew all the time he was gonna be somebody. Said he gonna buy Ma Teedy a big house with a garden. Now that promise done come true. Ma Teedy leavin 222 West 146th Street in Harlem today. She goin to live where the grass grows green 12 months out of the year.
36. And where the sky is blue. And the sun shines every day. She goin to Beverly Hills in Hollywood where the movie stars live.
37. I know that body was special from the day he was born. He was just different, with all his badness. People’s used to talk ‘bout him after his Ma died, then his Pa died, an he had to run and hide from the Mafia. That’s that kick in the ass the black man gets. But A.J. done made that kick into a kiss. And I just love him cause he ain forget Ma Teedy. An he ain forget where he come from, or who he is.
38. Tina be here too. She come to see Ma Teedy every Sunday she in New York an bring that little boy of hers an A.J. with her. She wear her hair in dred locks. Got it dyed brick red like Ma Teedy’s. Look like a lion’s mane. Well sir! Tina singin reggae now. Picked that up in Jamaica from the Rostas. Got her own group too an doin good.
39. You know Tina? She goes way out for anything she want. So she all on TV and travelling all over havin concerts. I guess she an A.J. be bumpin into each other in they big cars in Hollywood. But Ma Teedy want A.J. to own up to his son. But A.J. don’t want no parts of Tina. Say Tina almost got him killed messin with Miko and that mafia money back there. But that ain got nothing to do with little A.J.—Do it?
40. They was both kids then. Tina done come thru with her music. And raisin up her boy some fine. And A.J. done survive Harlem, South Bronx and Vietnam to be successful in Paris and Hollywood. Time to forge the past—Ain’t it?
41. I for one can’t wait to see A.J. drive up in his white chauffeur driver Cadillac limousine, and Tina in her lilac custom made Cadillac with Little A.J. sittin by her side. Well sir! 146th Street ain gonna never be the same no more.
42. We all sure gonna miss Ma Teedy. She say she comin back to see us every summer. Say A.J. gonna buy her a brownstone in Harlem for them to stay in when they comes to New York. Well if I ever get from ‘round here, I ‘ain comin back to see nobody but Jesus. And that’s the God’s honest truth. Hope God strike me dead in my tracks if I’m liein. An she ain comin back here either.
43. Maybe A.J. fly me out to Hollywood to hand out with the Swells. Put a little drink in me I hang out with the devil. I ain scared of those high toned negroes. They ain no better’n me. Don’t know if they as good. If I hit me a number I just show up at they door step. Say, “How do Miss Ma Teedy and Mr. A.J. I just passin your house, thought I’d drop in.” Dip my tired bones in they fabulous pool. Get me a poolside tan, layin up there with a high ball in my hand.
44. Too rich for my blood! But I gonna ask A.J. when he get here. Say, “A.J. Aunt Gracie sure would like to see you an Ma Teedy fine house in Hollywood.” Here he is. Lord ain he look some fine all dressed in white from head to toe? Got a white chauffeur too. Write down his license plate number so I can play it. A.J. 222-146. Bless his little heart. I told you that boy was something special.
the artist, Englewood, N. J. (1985–90; sold through the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, New York to MMA)
Wooster, Oh. College of Wooster Art Museum. "Faith Ringgold: Painting, Sculpture, Performance," August 25–October 13, 1985, unnumbered cat. (p. 25).
Dallas. Crescent Gallery. "Narrative Images: Folk Art and Related Contemporary Art," Spring 1987.
Corpus Christi. Art Museum of South Texas. "Narrative Images: Folk Art and Related Contemporary Art," June 19–August 16, 1987.
Tyler, Tex. Tyler Museum of Art. "Narrative Images: Folk Art and Related Contemporary Art," Fall 1987.
San Angelo, Tex. San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts. "Narrative Images: Folk Art and Related Contemporary Art," January 14–February 21, 1988.
Summit. New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts. "Storytelling Narrative Painting," November 13–December 30, 1988.
Harrisonburg, Va. Sawhill Gallery, James Madison University. "Faith Ringgold: Stories of Compassion and Conscience," January 9–February 5, 1989, no catalogue.
East Islip, N.Y. Islip Art Museum. "Quilts: A Voice in Silence," November 19, 1989–January 21, 1990, no catalogue.
New York. Studio Museum in Harlem. "The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s," May 18–August 19, 1990, unnumbered cat. (p. 351; as "Street Story Part I: Accident; Street Story Part II: The Fire; Street Story Part III: The Homecoming," lent by a private collection).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "City Life: Around the Eight," August 22, 2000–January 14, 2001, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Making The Met, 1870–2020," August 29, 2020–January 3, 2021, unnumbered cat. (fig. 256).
New York. New Museum. "Faith Ringgold: American People," February 17–June 5, 2022, unnumbered cat. (pp. 116–17; as "Street Story Quilt, Parts I–III: The Accident, the Fire, and the Homecoming").
Thalia Gouma-Peterson. Faith Ringgold: Painting, Sculpture, Performance. Exh. cat., College of Wooster Art Museum. Wooster, Oh., 1985, pp. 11–14, ill. pp. 25, 26 (detail).
Joy Poe. "Texas." Women Artists News 12 (Summer 1987), p. 7.
Pattie Chase. "A Legacy in Fabric." Sojourner 12 (March 1987), ill. p. 34 (detail of "The Accident").
Vivien Raynor. "Works That Tell Tales." New York Times (November 27, 1988), p. NJ34.
Helen A. Harrison. "Patchwork Political Outlets." New York Times (December 31, 1989), p. LI13.
MaryAnn Fariello. "Faith Ringgold: Stories of Compassion and Conscience." Art Papers 13 (July/August 1989), p. 56.
Sharon F. Patton inThe Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s. Exh. cat., Studio Museum in Harlem. New York, 1990, pp. 80–81, 351, colorpl. LXVI ("Part III: The Homecoming").
Roberta Smith. "3 Museums Collaborate to Sum Up a Decade." New York Times (May 25, 1990), p. C22.
Lou Cabeen. "Contemporary Political Fiber: Criticizing the Social Fabric." Fiberarts 17 (Summer 1990), p. 32, ill. (color; "The Accident").
Susan M. Canning. "National Reviews. The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s." Art Papers 14 (November/December 1990), p. 40.
Thalia Gouma-Peterson inFaith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey. Exh. cat., Fine Arts Museum of Long Island. Hempstead, N. Y., 1990, p. 24.
Lowery S. Sims in "Recent Acquisitions. A Selection: 1990–1991." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 49 (Fall 1991), p. 75, ill.
Faith Ringgold. We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold. Boston, 1995, pp. 78, 257–58, ill. p. 106 (color).
Thalia Gouma-Peterson inDancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold's French Collection and Other Story Quilts. Ed. Dan Cameron. Exh. cat., New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Berkeley, 1998, pp. 43–44, 48 n. 19, ill.
Patrick Hill inDancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold's French Collection and Other Story Quilts. Ed. Dan Cameron. Exh. cat., New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Berkeley, 1998, p. 38 n. 33.
Alma Jean Billingslea-Brown. Crossing Borders Through Folklore: African American Women's Fiction and Art. Columbia, Mo., 1999, pp. 95–96.
Lisa E. Farrington. Faith Ringgold. Petaluma, Calif., 2004, p. 112.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 534, ill. (color), colorpl. 492.
Max Hollein. Modern and Contemporary Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2019, ill. pp. 156–57.
Max Hollein inMaking The Met, 1870–2020. Ed. Andrea Bayer with Laura D. Corey. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2020, p. 235.
Kelly Baum inMaking The Met, 1870–2020. Ed. Andrea Bayer with Laura D. Corey. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2020, pp. 222, 257, fig. 256 (color).
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