Sweet Old Song

PBS Premiere: July 30, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

The Artists

Soft-Sculptures and Masks

"Soft sculpture is a relatively new direction in contemporary art. Over the last two decades, it has been an arena in which black women sculptors have dominated. ... Using her awareness of contemporary sociopolitical as well as cultural issues, Barbara Ward has not only freed her inner creativity from conventional art or aesthetically safe pursuits, she has also contributed hugely toward expanding the boundaries of what art is in the late twentieth century."
-- Edmund Barry Gaither, Director of the National Center for Afro-American Artists; From Callaloo, Vol. 12 No. 4

"I always made clothes and dolls, and it was nothing new. I was focused on dance and theater and never in my wildest imagination did I take what I was doing as an 'art form.' And all of a sudden, the dolls that were sitting in my backyard appeared in the Museum of Fine Arts and they had a new term, 'soft sculpture.'"

"This is called 'I Had a Dream,' based on my grandmother. Just before she was beginning to be very forgetful, she began to reveal a lot of her dreams to me. I made this around 1987. That's when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I used to bring this piece with me to the nursing home. And I worked on it in stages at the nursing home to see if she would react to it. I think the colors attracted her. She would touch it."

"This mask was influenced by the West African cloth appliqué tradition. I cut out small pieces of material, like quilting, and I layer them onto a wearable mask."

"My goal is to use soft sculpture imagery to visually state our experiences, to expand the knowledge about ourselves and others from different racial backgrounds. My inspiration comes from living."

"I usually write a story on the back of every one of my pieces. Since I've been playing in the band, and playing blues tunes, I got turned on to the idea of celebrating some blues memories of women singers in particular. Because they weren't so celebrated as the men were. And still aren't. This particular one is called ''Queen of the Blues.' And I decided to name pieces in the series after famous blues tunes. This one says, ''He may be your man, but he comes to see me sometimes. Lord have mercy.'"