Faith Ringgold, "Coming to Jones Road #4: Under a Blood Red Sky" (2000), acrylic on canvas with fabric borders (courtesy Colby College Museum of Art)

The Colby College Museum of Art in Maine has acquired artist Faith Ringgold’s narrative quilt “Coming to Jones Road #4: Under A Blood Red Sky” (2000). The fourth in a series of eight, the quilt tells the story of freedom-seeking enslaved people escaping north through the Underground Railroad.

In the quilt, a congregation of hazy ink-black figures is clustered in an opening between the trees, plodding forward into the forest under the guiding light of a bright white moon. The neon greens of the abstracted, amoeba-like tree leaves radiate against a loud red backdrop.

The quilt is characteristically bordered by Ringgold’s writing, and the excerpt tells of the group’s sojourn into the night with a newborn baby named “Freedom” in tow. Ringgold named the series Coming to Jones Road after moving from Harlem, New York to Jones Road in Englewood, New Jersey in 1992, where she faced racial hostility from her new neighbors. She relocated “with the dream of constructing a studio and creating a garden,” but instead found that to her neighbors, her “dream of a studio and garden was … no more than a rooming house with transient occupants.” Determined, however, to stay, Ringgold trained her artistic practice on healing her relationship with place. 

“In Coming to Jones Road, I have tried to couple the beauty of the place and the harsh realities of its racist history to create a freedom series that turns all the ugliness of spirit, past and present, into something livable,” Ringgold said about the series. “I am also trying, which is the hardest part of all, to speak in the voice of my grandmothers and fathers who made it possible for me in the twenty-first century to walk free and tell their story.”

Five of the eight quilts in the series are compositionally quite similar to Under the Blood Red Sky, all featuring a grove of trees and vague human figures under a moonlit sky — the image that inspired Ringgold to produce this series. Other quilts include a sprawling landscape composition; a snapshot of the formerly enslaved group leaving church on a Sunday afternoon; and a full-length portrait of Aunt Emmy, whose home was their ultimate destination.

Colby College Museum of Art Director Jacqueline Terrassa called it a “rare opportunity to acquire a story quilt by one of the most important, influential, and courageous artists of our time.” She continued, “It has art-historical and cultural significance, due to its subject and layered meanings, its visually rich form, and in the context of Ringgold’s broader contributions to the visual art and literary worlds.”

The New Museum is currently holding Ringgold’s first New York retrospective in over 40 years and her most comprehensive one to date, featuring over half a century of the artist’s work.

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.