Hey Creative Friend,
I’ve been busy at work. I created a new piece and I’m happy to share the story with you. I happened to discover an amazing woman who has unfortunately been forgotten but shouldn’t be. She’s Matilda Sissieretta Jones.
It started when I found a photo of her with medals pinned all over the dress that she was wearing. I was intrigued. There were so many of these gold medals and they looked important to her. I thought she really looked like African royalty.
You see, African kings and queens are adorned with a lot of gold jewelry. Since the land is rich in gold, the metal is often used as a status symbol. So, when I saw Madam Sisierretta, she reminded me of an African queen. So, I decided to draw her as a queen.
However, I didn’t find out about who she was until I’d completed my initial sketch. That’s when I started researching her story. Sissieretta Jones was an accomplished soprano; trained at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. She was “the greatest singer of her race” according to the caption on her photo. Sissieretta Jones was the first in many respects. She performed at The White House for 4 consecutive presidents and for the British royal family.
She was the first African American woman to headline a concert at the Carnegie Hall. Through a video created by Carnegie Hall and posted on YouTube, I learned the significance of Madam Jones’ medals. They were awards, made of gold, diamonds, and rubies given to her for her excellent performances. Of all her medals, she kept only three. Howard University has one of the three which it loaned to Carnegie Hall. And that’s how the video about it got created.
Often, I see a photo and I want to use it as reference to create a portrait because something about the photo speaks to me. 90% of the time, I never find out anything about the people in those portraits. This time, I was blessed to have chosen a woman of significance.
So, I dressed her up like a queen. I made her a crown with a lot of gold embellishments representing all the gold medals and awards she had received in her lifetime. I dressed her up in kente cloth, which I designed myself. Kente cloth was originally worn exclusively by royalty. Now everyone wears it. I also designed fabric which had a motif which is an exact replica of the shape of one of her medals. This fabric also had on it her dates of birth and death. That fabric became the background on which I layered her portrait.
As we celebrate Women’s History, this month, I celebrate Madam Sissieretta Jones. History should not forget what a treasure she was. Not only was she a talented artist, she was a doting daughter to her mother. She gave up everything and moved back home so that she could care for her sick mom. After she left the limelight to care for her mom, orphans, and adopted children, she was forgotten. Eventually, she lost all her source of income and ended up dying poor. She was a talented, compassionate and decent human.
I hope you enjoyed learning about my new piece. What are you working on? Let’s chat in the comments section below.
PS: Want more? Read other Stories Behind The Art.
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Also published on Medium.
Errol Miller says
You are Fantastic! Your Creativity seem to have no limitations, I am honoured to be a personal admirer of your work which is only recent……. imagine later on! You are truly blessed, keep up the good work.
Clara Nartey says
Thanks Errol. “Imagine later on”, indeed. The anticipation of that day fuels me to keep creating everyday. 🙂
Therese Stein says
You have outdone yourself. Extraordinary work. Thank you for bringing this amazing, but forgotten woman to our attention. Have been watching some of U Tube productions about her. Wow. But also have tears. Thanks to her and later “pioneers” like Marian Anderson, today we have many successful Black opera singers. Leontyne Price, for instance, the person who first got me interested in opera. Though she has not performed for years, there are probably 100’s of recordings and she is well respected and remembered.
Clara Nartey says
Isn’t YouTube great!!! You can get to enjoy music from so many people that way. 🙂
Kathleen Simpson says
I love your art and your description !
It IS essential to lift women and girls up!!
I also want to thank you for the Facing class. I’ve finished three small quilts using your technique and I’m very happy for the clean look.
Keep up your beautiful work!!
Thank you for Sharing!!
Oh!!!!! I also get the Quilt Folk magazine and saw you and read your article right away!!! This was before you posted anything about being featured!! Congratulations!!!
Clara Nartey says
You’re welcome Kathleen!!! So glad to hear that you like the results you’re getting from the facing class. Oh wow!!! That Quilt Folk feature was truly special to me. It’s a beautiful magazine. Thanks for you support.
Sita Dubeau says
I love the variety of fabrics, colours, the depth and the movement and the story!!!!
Clara Nartey says
Thanks Sita. I’m glad this piece speaks to you. 🙂