In case you missed the Gillett G. Griffin Memorial Lecture: Promoting African American artists from the South

"My soul has grown deep like the rivers." Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Near a bend of the Alabama River, a community known as “Gee’s Bend,” is home to a long lineage of quiltmakers who embrace bold colors, unexpected patterns, and uninhibited improvisation, known simply as “my way” quilting. 

The Souls Grown Deep (SGD) Foundation & Community Partnership promotes African American artists from the South, including the Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, and supports their communities by fostering economic empowerment, racial and social justice, and educational advancement. On March 5, 2021, Raina Lampkins-Fielder, curator for the Foundation and program officer for the Community Partnership, spoke as part of the Princeton University Library (PUL)’s Gillett G. Griffin Memorial Lecture Series (view recording below). 

“As we reexamine our collections at the Princeton University Library and work towards making them more inclusive of previously under-represented artists and communities, we look to organizations such as Souls Grown Deep to give us direction and inspiration,” says Julie Mellby, graphic arts curator. “While they offer promotion and support to their artists, they are also energizing organizations throughout the country, including here at Princeton.”

In 2017, PUL, in conjunction with the Department of African American Studies and the Princeton University Art Museum, chose artwork by Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, reproduced in limited edition soft-ground etching printed and published by Paulson Fontaine Press, to hang in the newly renovated African American Studies Reading Room in Firestone Library.

Gee's Bend Quilts in Firestone

Artwork by Gee’s Bend quiltmakers Mary Lee Bendolph and Loretta Pettway hang in the African American Studies Reading Room in Firestone Library, left to right: Remember Me, Get Ready, and Lazy Gal (printed by Paulson Fontaine Press, 2006). Benddolph and Pettway learned how to quilt from their female relatives, who passed down a tradition rooted in slavery, which transforms used clothes and fabric remnants with thriftiness and vision.

The SGD Foundation holds over 1,100 works by more than 160 artists, two-thirds of whom are women, and advocates their contributions to the canon of American art history through exhibitions, publications, and public programming. 

Since 2010, the SGD Foundation has facilitated the acquisition of over 350 works by more than 100 artists to esteemed institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Morgan Library & Museum. Negotiations are underway to acquire work for the Princeton University Art Museum.

“The mission of Souls Grown Deep is twofold,” says Lampkins-Fielder. “First, we have the Foundation to document, preserve, and promote the artwork. Second, we have the Community Partnership that focuses on supporting the communities that nurtured these artists.”

Since 2018, the SGD Community Partnership has made grants and committed $1 million to social impact investments with direct and indirect benefits to people of color in the Black Belt. 

In addition, the SGD Community Partnership supports a paid internship program, placing three emerging curators of color in a museum that has acquired work from the Foundation. This program aims to address a wider issue of representation and to evolve the conversation around this missing chapter of art history.

Published on March 26, 2021

Written by Emily Judd, Publicity Manager

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications