Remembering Faith Ringgold, Groundbreaking Artist and Classic Picture Book Creator

Posted on April 17, 2024

by Eric P

Millions of parents, children, and former children know artist Faith Ringgold – who died April 13 at the age of 93 – as the creator behind the classic picture book Tar Beach, which was a Caldecott Honor book as well as winning the Ezra Jack Keats and Coretta Scott King awards and being included on the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s list of best picture books, which, let’s be honest, is probably the most prestigious designation.

In Tar Beach, a little girl in 1939 Harlem suddenly gains the power of flight and spends a hot summer night taking an aerial tour of the city. Its blending of the mundane and the casually fantastical is reminiscent of other children’s artists like Maurice Sendak, but it’s set apart by its folkloric and stylized visuals. The images’ flattened perspective and detail-rich tableaux emerge from the fact that the story of Tar Beach first existed as one of Ringgold’s story quilts – painted textiles that politically invoked the potent symbolic traditions of Civil War-era “freedom quilts” and got exhibited in places like the Guggenheim. Tar Beach is highbrow art for adults borrowed from “low” arts and crafts and then translated into a work of popular art for children, which is why what could have been just a whimsical tale of a nighttime flight lands with such lyrical and empowering heft.

Following the tremendous success of Tar Beach, Ringgold created other books for children, always revolving around Black history, Black culture and Black victories, but those books were always just one corner of a wide-ranging career dominated by her work as an artist and political activist. A stroll through a gallery of Ringgold’s artworks is a tour of meticulous technical proficiency, vigorous social engagement, and oceans and oceans of words. Ringgold’s very appropriation of conventionally humble crafts to convey sophisticated narratives is itself a message about the subversive relevance of traditionally Black and female art forms. And while Ringgold’s outlook is often empowering and optimistic, her tone can – especially when she’s engaging with the issue of violence against Black bodies – ignite with righteous rage.

Faith Ringgold: The Last Story Quilt


Faith Ringgold: A View From the Studio


Faith Ringgold: Narrating the World in Pattern and Color


Did you like this blog post? Keep up to date with all of our posts by subscribing to the Library’s newsletters!

Keep your reading list updated with our book lists. Our staff love to read and they’ll give you the scoop on new tv-series inspired titles, hobbies, educational resources, pop culture, current events, and more!

Looking for more great titles? Get personalized recommendations from our librarians with this simple form.