Riché Richardson Art Quilts
The Richardson family has shaped Riché Richardson’s foundational values, commitments to Christian faith and dedication to community service and to making a difference. Her great grandfather, Joe Richardson, whose funeral had been on the day that her grandfather named after him was born in 1915, had painted his own self-portrait. His son Joe, a contractor in construction, was also very talented in art and even taught art lessons to a youth after work. Her hardworking family stimulated and inspired her from her early childhood through the interesting projects that they worked on at home. Joe Richardson was constantly working on home construction projects, beyond his contracting work. Her grandmother Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson, whose great grandfather on her father Frank Jenkins's side, Isic Jenkins, was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1795, was part of a twin dynasty that passed the names "Isaac and Ben" over several generations. The Mona Lisa was among the images kept in the hallway of her mother Ada Jordan Jenkins, whose father Adolphus Jordan had served on the County Seat during Reconstruction. Mrs. Richardson cooked daily from scratch as she worked in private duty nursing. Riché learned a lot from her grandmother's creative flair, ingenuity and styling ability that had been honed as a young woman whose first job was arranging window displays at a hat shop in downtown Montgomery.
As a child, Riché noticed how her aunt Pamela’s ongoing sewing, beading, macramé and cooking projects, took center stage in the family, in the years before her aunt began college and a career in kindergarten school teaching. As a child, Riché was also taken to events with her family like the performance of Fiddler on the Roof when Pam participated as a student at Jefferson Davis High School, and to Pam’s debutante cotillion at Garrett Coliseum, for which there were months then weeks of fittings and preparations. She went along on the many trips to the fabric store and to the seamstress, Miss Rosetta, for fittings. She also learned a lot from her mother Joanne’s activities at home, such as drafting work, sachet making, cross-stitching, needle-pointing and beading in her spare time while working for the federal government. Her uncle Joseph, who moved out and married as a young adult and worked in construction, expressed a lot of creativity in his apartment décor.
Riché says that her family is one reason that, from the age of 9, she has never not had some kind of project of her own in development in writing and art that she was nurturing. Her projects unfolded in addition to the formal work and outstanding projects that she consistently produced as a student in school at St. John the Baptist Catholic School. At age 9, her poem “Christmas is Here” was selected as an Honorable Mention in the contest sponsored by First Alabama Bank. She continued to write poetry and began to do various projects in latch hooking, crocheting and sewing. At school, she says that could not draw as well as the most talented and gifted artists among her classmates and never ranked herself among them, but always enjoyed her art classes every Friday afternoon and worked hard on everything that she did. She was also taught art at Vacation Bible School at age 9.
At age 11, Riché went with her grandparents, Joe and Emma Richardson, to shop for her grandmother's art supplies and was taken along to a session of the ceramics class that was coordinated a family friend, Alma Burton Johnson, though her grandmother decorated in a classic style with antique Victorian furnishings, and treasured her collection of whatnots. She gave the pieces that she produced, which included a set of African American chefs and a utensil holder, to Pam as kitchen decor. As a preteen, Riché also became fascinated with Xavier Roberts’s Little People soft-sculpture dolls that were eventually mass marketed as Cabbage Patch Kids. At age 11, she began to study techniques for making them when her grandparents bought her the pattern book at Gayfers Department store for $5.
Indeed, the very first quilt that she ever pieced was the miniature one that she made for her Barbie dolls around age 11 with a stack of small square fabric scraps of her mother Joanne, who had received them as fabric samples. She followed up that project by making a quilted pillow and sleeping bag.
She fully decorated her Barbie doll Townhouse herself, poured time, focus and meticulous handiwork into her creations for it, and was as devoted to this creativity for them as to her play. She also made miniature soft sculpture dolls for this small world.
Riché always supplemented the store-bought, clothes that came with her Barbie dolls or that were purchased from Mattel, not only by making bedding ensembles, sofas and chairs for her doll house, but also with clothes that she sewed for them, which included monogrammed towels and washcloths, gowns and bathrobes, dresses, and a denim jacket, etc. The photos below show the clothes and furnishings that she made herself.
She made several miniature dolls for her dollhouse as a preteen. At age 15, she made her first larger soft-sculpture dolls and won a first-place prize from the Alabama Association of Federated Youth Clubs at their annual convention.
In high school at St. Jude Educational Institute, the vivid three-dimensional, appliqué campaign posters that Riché produced on the road to being elected as student council vice-president at the end of her sophomore year at age 15, and student council president at the end of her junior year at age 16, anticipated her later quilting style. Some of her posters had borders resembling quilt binding and featured figures such as Janet Jackson, Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell, Oprah Winfrey, Ann Landers, and Phil Donahue, and Max Headroom. She also made a soft-sculpture doll in the months before leaving for Spelman College (see doll dressed in blue above).
She created and installed several bulletin boards at school, beginning at age 12. This is her bulletin board designed and installed in high school at age 16 as student council vice-president as part of the "Initiate Your Favorite Teacher Grinch" fundraiser at St. Jude Educational Institute.
All of her early creative projects in life, along with the stimulating artistic community at Spelman College, paved her way to making her first quilt in college, which she completed as a senior in the months after becoming a member of the Eta Kappa Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Eta Kappa exhibited Riché's quilt among the works that they selected to showcase in a student art show on Spelman's campus in Lower Manley Student Center in the spring of 1993. In the months that followed, she completed miniature versions of the quilt as gifts for her Delta "Speshs," Patsy K. Rucker and Riché Daniel-Barnes. Like the "Daughters of Africa" quilt and the large family quilts she that completed after graduation, her earliest quilts and smaller versions based on them that she made as gifts for friends, established foundations for her method of developing series within her repertoire as a quilter. She made the second "Daughters of Africa quilt for Claire Milligan (pictured below). She met Georgette Norman, while they were volunteering in Camp Sunshine, who was founding director of the Alabama African American Arts Alliance. Riché collaborated with Georgette on her third "Daughters of Africa" quilt and made all of its appliqués (with the exception of its center block made by Georgette, who also finished the piece, including the background quilting). Riché became a part of her "salon" and began to attend the gatherings of artists that Georgette regularly brought together in the Montgomery community. Georgette mentored Riché as an emerging artist and encouraged her to continue making quilts and to exhibit them at some point.
Riché had also been inspired to make her first quilt in the months after reading, Double Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers & Daughters (1991), an anthology to which her professors Gloria Wade-Gayles and Beverly Guy-Sheftall had contributed essays. Indeed, as a project for the black women’s autobiography course that she took with Dr. Gayles, Riché documented her grandmother Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson’s autobiography on tape and continued to explore it. It inspired her to develop her first family quilt. Later, her grandmother’s history of living in Florida during World War II helped inspire her to develop the “Portraits” quilt project. In the "Portraits" quilt project that she inaugurated in 1999 while living in California and working on the faculty at UC Davis, she continued to use felt as the foundational fabric on her quilts, and mixed-media and three-dimensional appliqué techniques, but departed from the small color silhouette, block-based style of her early works. She was inspired by vintage family photos to create larger backgrounds resembling canvases. She began to draw and paint on her quilts in the classic, portrait style that has come to define her work.
She completed the appliqués for "My Family Quilt"(1993) in her alone time after the long busy days ended, during the weeks that she worked for 6 weeks as a teaching apprentice at Milton Academy in Milton, MA. She followed up this project with an autobiographical quilt entitled "Destiny's Child: Borrowed Robes" in 1994, which she began after her first year in the PhD program at Duke University in Durham, NC.
As a graduate student at Duke University, she also designed and completed the appliqués for two Africa quilts in 1995, in which she experimented with incorporating a broader range of materials such as rope, sticks and straw. The blocks in her second Africa quilt were inspired by images in an African cookbook. Her mother Joanne gave her the printed fabrics.
Because of her journey to art, it is fitting that a large My Size black Barbie and all of the soft-sculpture dolls from her childhood, along with 2 original Little People dolls by Xavier Roberts, pave the way into Riché’s artist studio alongside some of the works from her collection of over 50 works of original Southern folk art. In her childhood, Riché owned over 100 dolls, which were mostly gifts from her mother and grandmother, and in her life, at least 145 in all, including many black dolls. Her grandmother ensured that her collection of porcelain, rag, soft sculpture and Barbie dolls was carefully preserved. Currently, nearly 130 dolls are on display throughout her artist’s home. They include the Barbies from her childhood, topped off by her collection of rare Superstar Christie dolls, and 15 dolls of women in her family that belonged to her grandmother, her aunt Pamela R. Garrett, and cousins Keri Smith and Megan O’Neil.
Riché discusses her doll collection in more detail in "®Made in Montgomery: Growing Up with Dolls and Honoring the Craft Work of Mrs. Essie Thomas,"(2016) and "Christie@50 and the Power of Black Doll Love"(2018).