When Alice Walker raised this question a generation ago in her 1974 essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” she was expanding on Virginia Woolf’s musing “Why is it that men have always had power and influence while women have had nothing but children?” Woolf’s 1928 address to The Arts Society at Newnham College for Women is celebrated as one of the first works of feminist criticism. The title, A Room of One’s Own comes from Woolf’s observation that a woman needs an independent income and a room of her own with a door she can lock in order to create great art.
“What then are we to make of Phillis Wheatley, a slave, who owned not even herself? (235)” asks Walker in the midst of imagining the lives of other frustrated black women artists forced to “bake biscuits for a lazy backwater tramp, when she cried out in her soul to paint watercolors of sunsets, or the rain falling on the green and peaceful pasturelands…” (233)
Walker ultimately recognizes the creative expression black women invested in everyday tasks such as tending flower gardens and traces her own artistic lineage back to Africa where perhaps some foremother “wove the most stunning mats or told the most ingenious stories of all the village storytellers (243).”
At the Atlanta Doll Collectors' annual doll show last Saturday, however, I met a community of women artists who are creating space for their work within their visions of their present and future lives. Unlike Virginia Woolf, none had a legacy from an Auntie to support their creative endeavors, but all were professionals able to earn the means to pursue their artistic passions.
Getting to know these women has truly inspired me to follow my own dreams.
Bohemian Threads – Jocelyn Y. Carter
“If I had to take all of them back home, I would be fine with that.”
For Jocelyn Carter, making dolls was a natural progression from quilting. While her professional training was in the sciences rather than in fine arts, she has been quilting for twelve years and has been making dolls for three. She makes huggable rag dolls from a wide-eyed pattern but also keeps 5 or 6 one of a kind dolls in progress – “I never just do one,” she explains. She draws a face and then determines where to go from there, but sewing the doll, stuffing it, finding the right color fabric for her dress can take time. Still the process is satisfying because it is something that she loves. “It is my peace.”