Yesterday, I held my open studio, once a year sale, and a dear friend bought a piece that I thought I would never sell, because of all the work that went into the series, "Modern Icons" .
Each one took many weeks of study, investigation and art making. After collecting all the information on each icon, I cut the separate panels out of solid birch. I then painted the figures in oil with encaustic over many of the areas. Using a sharpened chop stick, I made intricate carvings into the encaustic to reveal the underneath colors and create pattern. The backs of all of these icon continue the message.
Aunt Jemima was the star of this sold icon. Here is her story;
Most Americans are familiar with Aunt Jemima. She has been called "The Slave in a box"; a painful America icon that represents the most demeaning and racist chapters in American history.
"Whites gave us this image", explains Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, whose book on how blacks were portrayed in advertising, takes a critical view of Aunt Jemima; "They made her very dark, very obese, and they put her in the kitchen"
One if the great myths of slavery was that black women were either Jezebel or Mammy, or both. There were both a harlot and the mothering old Aunt Jemima. Of course these women were not authentic. They were stereotypes. They were myths created by these "poor" white slave owners that used their sexual cravings for these black "harlots" to justify their lustful behavior. The white fathers claimed no fault when mixed race children were born to these "Jezebels".
The women who portrayed Aunt Jemima were part of a tradition that dated to 1893, when former slave named Nancy Green greeted visitors to the World's Fair in Chicago. Green cooked, sang songs and told tales of the Old South, while reportedly serving more than a million pancakes and helping generate more than 50,000 orders for the pancake mix. That was followed by tours across the United Sates and Canada until her death in 1923.
The character's legend holds that Aunt Jemima had been a slave on a fictional Col. Higbee's plantation. A typical magazine ad from the turn of the century shows a heavy set black cook talking happily while a white man takes notes.
In a broader sense, says Kern-Foxworth, this type of depiction had been stifling to blacks for many years, because it was about the only image of a black woman that was ever seen in the mainstream media. The message it reinforces, says Kern-Foxworth, is that" black women belong in the kitchen, or in their master's bed".
On the sides of this triptych, we see Aunt Jemima's angels; Rosa Parks, the woman who changed a nations' history by sitting down for what she believed in and refusing to give up her bus seat. On the other side is a Masai bride; proud, beautiful and strong.
On the main panel of the back of this icon features the Black Madonna. It is known that the iconography if Isis (who is often portrayed as black) and her son Horus was basically adopted by Christians when they started to portray Mary and Jesus as mother and child.
Among the important black women also pictured on the back of the icon is Josephine Baker in La Revve Negre. She received the Legion of Honor in France for her work in the resistance.
Ida Weel-Barnett, 1862 - 1931, was a relentless campaigner against racial lynching. She was a predecessor of Rosa Parks in 1884, when she refused to give up her train seat. She became a journalist in 1891.
We also see Althea Gibson, tennis star, born in 1927 and Bessie Smith, singer, 1895 - 1937.
I have included a few of today's powerful black women: Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund; an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional career, Whoppi Goldberg, Ophra Windfrey and Maya Angelu, none of whom could be confused with an Aunt Jemima.
Across the top of the back panel I carved a quote from the Song of Solomon. "I am Black and I am Beautiful"