“Maya’s Quilt of Life,” a quilt featuring the image of Maya Angelou by Faith Ringgold that was a commissioned birthday gift to Angelou from Oprah Winfrey, has been acquired by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art from the collection of the late author. 

Like Angelou with words, Ringgold uses painted canvas and pieced fabric to tell stories. On “Maya’s Quilt of Life” she incorporated handwritten excerpts from Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” about her childhood in Stamps and beyond; “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie”; “Gather Together in My Name,” and “The Heart of a Woman.”


From the Crystal Bridges press release:

“We recently welcomed our two-millionth visitor to the museum and as we reflect on this milestone, we are developing ways to engage audiences and expand the American story within our collection,” says Crystal Bridges Director of Curatorial Affairs, Margi Conrads. “This work celebrates the voice of one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century and we are honored to share this American treasure on a broader scale. We also think the work will resonate deeply with our local audiences because of Angelou’s Arkansas roots and the culture of the Ozarks, which boasts a long tradition of quilt-making.”

In the coming months, “Maya’s Quilt of Life” will debut in the 1940s to Now Gallery, alongside other postwar women artists already represented in the collection, such as Elizabeth Catlett, Kara Walker, and Roni Horn, who like Ringgold cites an important American female author with her work “When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes No. 859: A Doubt If It Be Us.”  “ ‘Maya’s Quilt of Life’ expands the presence of important black artists in our collection, building on other recent acquisitions of works by artists ranging from Edward Mitchell Bannister to Alma Thomas,” says Crystal Bridges Curator Chad Alligood. At the same time, the work bolsters a key strength of Crystal Bridges’ collection: important women artists of the postwar period. The parallels between Ringgold and Angelou are manifest in this work: both women deploy the power of written word to illuminate the experience of being a black woman in America.”