Wendy Blackwell

Wendy Blackwell Artist and interviewer: Jennifer Bishop

Wendy Blackwell

Artist and interviewer: Jennifer Bishop

I became a textile artist through my early experiences growing up in Baltimore City. My mom was a master quilter and made our clothes. I remember one Easter when I was five, and my dad took our family to Maceo’s lounge for dinner. We went upstairs through the side door because children weren’t allowed in the bar. Maceo’s was a jazz lounge and an artful place, with good food, music, and cloth tablecloths and napkins. 

As an artist, I love to repurpose things, painting tennis shoes and sewing story quilts by hand.  Before leading a quilt circle with kids, I like to introduce the Liberia folktale, the Cowtale Switch, about a hunter killed during the hunt who is bought back to life by his sons because his youngest son asks, "Where is my father?". The others go looking for him. He says, “a man isn’t really dead until he’s forgotten.” Telling stories in quilts, using symbols for each part of a person’s life along with traditional quilt patterns, is a way of remembering our elders and where we came from. We say their names and hold them in out hearts, as we quilt their story.

I have a history of teaching in Baltimore Public Schools, and developing and leading programs in children’s museums. Right now I’m working with a group of children in telling the story of Marion Martin Banfield, Jada Pinkett Smith's grandmother, for a quilt to hang in the Henrietta Lacks Reading Room. The children will learn about storytelling and history while discovering their own creative power.

I’m interested in the idea that children are chasing identities by shopping for brands. What they don’t know is that they can make their own mark, find their own creative power.  Instead of buying the designer clothes, they might want to be the designer. I want to introduce the idea that we each see things in unique ways.

I plan to use my Elevation opportunity to create a program where children learn about their own creativity through textiles. Boys will be welcome as well as girls - after all, Rosy Grier played football and enjoyed needlepoint, and sailors tie knots!

I want to empower Baltimore's children to understand the strength of their own currency. It’s not just about $$. Not spending is more powerful than spending. I plan to help give kids a voice through textile arts.