Welcome to the KFW Blog!
In an effort to make more voices heard, the Kentucky Foundation for Women created a comprehensive communication plan this past year. In addition to our Facebook presence, we started Twitter and Instagram accounts, so that we can spread the word about the powerful and diverse work feminist artists are doing across the state, and to spark a conversation about how feminist art facilitates social change in Kentucky. In a similar spirit, we’ve started the blog you’re reading right now. We envision all of these forums as opportunities to feature a wide range of perspectives and views on feminism, art, and social change.
The contents on this blog are submitted by guest bloggers from across the state who interested in feminist art for social change in KY. The viewpoints expressed belong to the guest authors, who are not members of the KFW staff.
The following guest blog is from KFW Board member Lee Alcott.
Scatter Me Some Seeds
Stories fill my head as I begin to write this blog…which direction to take? Should I focus on myself? My art? My children? My work? Feminist art? The art of humanity? The art of social justice? Should I write about the 35 plus years I worked in different arenas with battered women and children, the last 19 with the Barren River Area Safe Space in Bowling Green, Kentucky? As the newest member on the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, it is perhaps important to write about the intersection of art and social justice and that impact on discerning, healing and transforming women’s lives. I sit. I walk. I listen to music. I drink coffee. And then I write.
Life’s journey is often like a river, moving along bends and rocks. Life’s creative journey adds additional dimensions to the path one takes. My life has always been surrounded by art and creativity. Ironically, on my way to being a writer, I became an art therapist. I am not a professional artist, but self-taught. I was accepted into the Expressive Therapy Program at Lesley University in Cambridge on the merits of my portfolio, although the program required studio experience. My journey took me along the path of teaching English, teaching art, working in a factory, curriculum developer, having children, working as a clinical art therapist and rape crisis therapist, and as an administrator of a non-profit. My work has, for the most part focused on women and children.
Art takes different forms for different individuals, and presents itself according to current needs, insights, or injustices. Incorporating art into one’s everyday life is not an easy task, especially when working in an intense environment that requires 24 hour on call, critical decision making, bringing in enough funds to keep the doors open, and sitting at the kitchen table listening to the stories of survivors as they process their trauma. I realized, during my tenure as the Executive Director of the Barren River Area Safe Space in Bowling Green, Kentucky that I needed to create.
One way I met this need, when there was no time to paint or draw, was to design a garden, a living legacy to battered women and children. This creation came about in a unique way. The shelter had a courtyard with several areas of dirt that hosted seasonal flowers and herbs. One day, while walking through the courtyard I encountered a young girl holding a Styrofoam cup filled with potting soil and a single marigold. She told me they grew them in school and she wanted to plant hers at the shelter so that when she left we would always remember her. I found a trowel for her and she picked out a spot for her marigold. She also found some cardboard and a stick and made a primitive sign that read: “Sara’s Garden”. She repeated that she did not want anyone to forget her. That was in the spring of 2000. Her words stuck with me and in early March of 2001 the first two trees were planted in a field behind the shelter. The trees, weeping cherries, created the first entrance to the garden. The trees were dedicated to a local attorney who worked tirelessly to help victims of domestic violence, and to her twin sister who was murdered by her husband. Their mother travelled several hundred miles to attend the tree planting and when she saw the trees she said “twins.”
Sara’s Garden began to grow as a healing reminder of the lives of women who suffered the ultimate act of domestic violence. The act of remembering their names and honoring their lives is an act of social justice. Over thirty additional trees have been planted in Sara’s Garden since 2001. A handful of those trees are a testament to supporters who work to end violence against women. Each tree has a plaque of recognition. Volunteers laid paving stones for walkways, and created garden rooms. Garden clubs dug up perennials from their own gardens to plant. The garden serves as a solace to shelter residents.
The warm days of March 2017 are a reminder of a long-awaited spring. This season continues to remind me of a shelter resident from several years ago. I will call her “Lily.” She arrived with some of the most severe physical injuries I had ever seen. She could hardly walk, but she did. She could hardly talk, but she did. Her eyes were swollen and bruised. Yet she smiled and engaged with other residents and advocates. She arrived in spring from one of our most rural counties. She had been isolated from many mainstream resources, but she was quick to tell us that she always had a garden. She always planted flowers and vegetables. Her garden gave her a sense of purpose and independence. She met me in Sara’s Garden one afternoon and talked about the joy she felt in walking down the various walking paths. It gave her a sense that she was on a new journey. She was optimistic about returning to her home and creating a garden of her own again. She looked out among the trees and flowers, waved her hand and said, “I’m gonna scatter me some seeds.”
These are a few of the moments that had a creative impact on my life. What began with one child, one flower, and one comment evolved into a living legacy of beauty and healing for women. Twin weeping cherry trees were watered with a mother’s tears. Her tears created rivers of hope for other parents to request a tree be planted for a slain daughter, or to visit the garden. A simple statement about planting generated several published articles and presentations about the challenge of women to scatter some seeds. The seeds we scatter have many meanings. They are seeds of peace, seeds of hope, healing, and justice.
And so, as a new Board Member, it is one way I view the Kentucky Foundation for Women’s support of the artistic efforts of women who seek to create a world of justice, create new definitions of equity and feminism, and find their own ways to scatter some seeds.
Lee Alcott, added 3/29/17
The following guest blog is from Ellen Birkett Morris, a Louisville-based writer.
Spotlight on Sara Martin: Blues Pioneer
Kentucky has a rich musical heritage that continues to this day, but few are aware of the legacy of Sara Martin, a popular blues singer of the 1920s who was known as “the blues sensation of the West.”
Sara was born in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood in 1884. She began her career as a vaudeville singer around 1915. She performed with a jug band, a popular style of music which is still played today. Louisville jug band music was a mix of African American folk traditions and jazz instrumentation, according to Michael L. Jones, author of “Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to National Jubilee.” Sara recorded “Blue Devil Blues” with the Dixieland Jug Blowers in 1924. Their recording was the first recorded jug band on record.
Known as “moanin mama,” Sara secured a recording contract with Okeh Records in 1922, when she was 38 years old. One of her first recordings was ‘Taint Nobody’s Bizness if I Do’ with Fats Waller on piano.
Her tune “Sugar Blues” was popular and helped draw attention to her singing. The following year Okeh released seventeen records by Sara. Her work with popular sidemen Clarence Williams, Sidney Bechet, Sylvester Weaver and King Oliver’s band helped make her a best seller. She continued recording until 1928.
Sara was renowned for her stage show, where she appeared in lavish costumes with diamonds in her teeth. She toured Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica and major US cities in the late 20s.
According to the blues historian Daphne Duval Harrison, Martin tended to use more swinging, danceable rhythms than some of her peers, but when she sang a traditional blues her voice and styling had richer, deeper qualities that matched the content in sensitivity and mood. He noted that her renditions of the songs “Mean Tight Mama” and “Death Sting Me” approach “an apex of blues singing.”
Her talents included performing in films. Sara was in the 1929 film “Hello Bill” with Bill Bojangles Robinson and appeared in the first talking picture with an all-black cast, “Darktown Scandals Revue” in 1930.
“She was truly one of the classic blues singers,” said Keith Clements, a founding member and a current director for the Kentuckian Blues Society.
Sara retired from blues singing in the 1930s and returned to Louisville, where she opened a nursing home and sang in the local church gospel choir. She passed away from a stroke at the age of 71. Sara was buried in Louisville Cemetery off Poplar Level Road in an unmarked grave.
Kentuckiana Blues Society and National Jug Band Jubilee raised funds to install a pictorial headstone to mark the grave site of Martin. One side of the marker shows Martin performing in a ’20s-style gown, and the other side includes her bio. The headstone was placed two years ago. Her collaborators Earl McDonald and Slyvester Weaver are buried in the same cemetery. Kentuckiana Blues Society and National Jug Band Jubilee are receiving an award from the Kentucky Historical Society in March for their efforts to celebrate this blues great.
Ellen Birkett Morris, added 2-15-17
The following guest blog is from KFW Board member Jacquelyn Carruthers—a nurse and artist living in Paducah, KY. Below she shares her story of a mural project in her community.
Artistic Rejuvenation in Paducah
Like many downtown areas from yesteryear which have vacant buildings due to urban expansion from construction of malls, Paducah has one building that caught the eye of local artists to renovate. The old Kresge dime store…which needed some attention. So the local Arts promotion director, Melissa Winchester asked for the assistance Paducah Art School students and me to help out with the “Murals” to enhance the downtown area.
I had been wanting this project to happen for quite awhile and the suggestion to start with the go ahead…”The Mural project” began. I knew that it would be a positive undertaking because I had traveled to western states for example, Oregon, California, Arizona and Denver. Then to the deep south in Atlanta to the Artist Districts of 5 Points which specialized in Graffiti Arts Wall Painting. Paducah would soon be initiating their own form of artistic rejuvenation for the local community by covering the old store windows first with plywood covered in white primer paint to begin the process.
I knew it would work because I had seen it done many places across the country. It was very enthralling of how artists had painted murals in all the cities I listed above…using as their media format, concrete tunnels and bypasses, old billboards and abandoned buildings.
So my call to action was to become part of the artistic rejuvenation in Paducah. As soon as the weather breaks I will help out my hometown by eventually painting a second mural. I favor the Impressionist form of Picasso I had admired in Phoenix Arizona. Mural Painting can be inspirational for large and small communities and enjoyed by all age groups.
Jacquelyn Carruthers 1/21/17
Natalie Frank Adds a Sisterly Touch to the Brothers Grimm
An imaginary world of magic, mystical creatures, and the overarching desire to find one’s self are a few of the traits we all recognize from fairytales. Natalie Frank, a New York-based artist, has taken the works of the Brothers Grimm and transformed them into a collection of feminist pieces that connect the magical world with everyday life. While admiring the pieces, many find that the stories they escaped to as a kid are actually mirroring the world they live in.
Through her natural talent and background education from Yale and The Slade, Natalie interpreted thirty-six different tales through what she calls a “Feminist lens”. She has taken back women’s ownership of the tales since they were originally told orally and collected throughout the centuries by women until the Brothers Grimm gathered and altered them for various reasons. The alterations have been taken even further through Disney where one of the greatest desires of a majority of the female characters is to find true love. Natalie chose to interpret the Grimm versions while adding her own touch and says that the women in the Grimm stories vary from Disney because these women are more complex. They are not always “meek and prim” and Natalie had no interest in traditional gender roles in her drawings. For example, the evil stepsisters in Cinderella did not merely bully Cinderella and loathe in the fact that they could not fit into the slipper. Instead, they went as far as self-amputation to hopefully get what they desired. The stories are shown through bright colors and images that are catching to the eye and the imagination.
Natalie owes the pursuit of following her dream career as an artist to many people she has met along her journey. Many of them fostered independence, which is an important trait for every woman. She began drawing when she was twelve years old and took life drawing classes with her mother in an artist named Ellen Soderquist’s garage. Feminism is an overall concept weaved throughout her show. Her independence and female role models have no doubt had a hand in her feminist passion. She defines feminism as “equal rights and opportunity for men and women…basic human rights”.
Natalie’s Brothers Grimm show began at The Drawing Center in New York where it was curated by Claire Gilman. It then traveled to the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin where it was curated by Veronica Roberts. Now it can be seen at the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington where it is organized by Stuart Horodner. Each drawing can be taken home in a book available at the show that includes essays by Linda Nochlin, Claire Gilman, and Julie Taymore. Natalie hopes that when people view her works, they see that narratives and our stories reflect a great deal about our humanity.
About the Author:
Blair Johnson is an honors student at the University of Kentucky with a major in journalism and a double minor in psychology and gender and women’s studies. She has written for the Kentucky Kernel and USA Today College. Blair was a spring intern at the Lexington Art League and now serves as the Director of Communication for the University of Kentucky Student Government Association. She is also the Director of Academics for her sorority, Alpha Phi, and a member of the University of Kentucky Feminist Alliance. Blair plans to attend law school after her undergraduate career where she will continue to advocate for women’s rights.
The content on this blog is composed by a independent student voice who is interested in feminist art for social change in KY. The viewpoints expressed belong to the guest author, who is not a member of the KFW staff.