Lisa Woolfork 0:10
Hello, stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. As I say every week, this is a very special episode, because for this episode, we are talking with Angela Carol Franklin, who is an artist, a storyteller— you know what, actually, let me tell you what someone wrote, posted about her just to give you a tiny idea about her work. And this was on her Instagram page, and the comment read, "Angela, your works are masterpieces! Storytelling, gut-wrenching. heartstring-pulling, prouder and proud pieces. Girl, you are amazing!"
Angela Franklin 1:12
Lisa Woolfork 1:13
So this is who we are talking to today. Welcome so much, Angela Franklin, to the program. We are very glad to have you.
Angela Franklin 1:20
Thank you. It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for that. Beautiful, beautiful comments to open the program. Thank you.
Lisa Woolfork 1:26
Wonderful. Well, let's just get started with the beginning. How would you describe the beginning of your sewing story?
Angela Franklin 1:33
I would say that it was just kind of around me everywhere. I framed it by saying I'm a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. Although, I really didn't grow up in the Cincinnati city limits. I came from an area called West College Hill. If you go to my Instagram page, right after Memorial Day, I had posted this story that someone had written. It said, "West College Hill neighborhood Springfield Township community is believed to be the oldest Black subdivision in Hamilton County." So it really is a rich story. And I just grew up watching people, as Alice Walker would say, "in search of my mother's gardens"—people who made art from what they had at hand. My mother sewed. When we were children, my mother would take us to stores and she needed to see the dress. And we would go to department stores, and she wanted to see the dress—to hold it, to touch it, to hold up the hanger. But once she did that, she was able to go home and make a pattern from that brown paper bag, make a pattern, and she could sew. My oldest sister was like a seamstress extreme, extraordinary.
Lisa Woolfork 2:37
Angela Franklin 2:38
So she could make men's coats and men's suits and cover furniture and make just exquisite dresses.
Lisa Woolfork 2:46
Angela Franklin 2:46
So they were sewing, so there were always scraps of fabric, and it was sewing, sewing, sewing. So I didn't pick it up then, but my mother did put me in a sewing class at a very young age—maybe second, third grade? And it was that perfunctory class where at first we made an apron.
Lisa Woolfork 3:01
Angela Franklin 3:02
Then we made a pair of shorts with an elastic waist. Then we made a skirt with a zipper. So we followed these steps to sewing. And that was fine. And then I sewed through like middle school and high school. I always tell people in high school I made my prom dresses, and I was sewing so much that I noticed my mother never wanted to buy me anything. She was always like, you can make that!
Lisa Woolfork 3:21
Like, are you sure you want me to buy that for you, Angela? I bet you can make it way better than that. I believe in my daughter. I'm not getting it. We're not gonna buy that, girl. We're gonna let your genius fly.
Angela Franklin 3:30
Yeah, and I thought, but I want to walk into the store and buy something, as we would say in Senegal, port au porte—already made.
Lisa Woolfork 3:37
Angela Franklin 3:37
When I entered sewing as an art form. I always tell people, I don't follow the rules. When I see those groups where they do rules—cut the square this way—I don't follow the rules. So I always tell people, I'm not a quilter. I'm just an artist who works with textiles and mixed media. Because I think there are rules in quilting. I don't follow them. Some of my not following them is having been places where the traditional materials and everything that you would have in the U.S., they just weren't there to be found. And I couldn't do it that exact way, so I improvised.
Lisa Woolfork 4:08
This is fantastic. I love hearing the story of being surrounded by sewing and textiles. Being surrounded by this kind of encouragement, this structure. The way that we learn to sew in the U.S., which tends to be: you take a formal class, you learn to read a pattern, you learn about the principles of the quarter-inch seam allowance, and what the importance of straight seams and tension, and dah dah dat dah rah. You do learn these things in kind of really very regimented ways. And one of the things I appreciate about the story you shared about your mother—could look at a dress and make it—my grandmother was very similar. She could look at you and say, okay, I got it. And here's the picture you wanted from the newspaper? Bet. And then she would make it. When you were just talking, you said, "I don't call myself a quilter. I'm just a..." and then you go on and describe this incredibly extraordinary person you actually are, because they said, quilting is too strict. I wonder if you are a liberating and liberated quilter. [Angela laughs] That you are someone who is like, you know what, I don't need these rules. These are not made for me. They don't serve me. Let me do what makes my heart sing. And it makes me wonder that you have connected that great freedom impulse with the work that you're doing in terms of repair. I don't know, just helping to kind of build through that program. And we're gonna talk about next at Xavier University in Cincinnati. There's just so much in your story. Thank you so much, like, thinking about your travels, thinking about the way you move between the U.S. and Senegal and the Pacific Islands, like all these different places, and how adaptable you are, because you began with the same things that Alice Walker talks about: those folks who can make art from what they have at hand.
Angela Franklin 5:54
Lisa Woolfork 5:54
That is not something that you have to go and purchase all the things you need. You have the things you need around you, because these are the things you have. And so there's something so incredibly powerful about that. Can you talk a bit more about the connection between this type of regimented learning to sew in these very strict ways, or being told that in order to somehow qualify as a quilt, it has to follow these rules? Do you see the connection between those and the ways that folks around the world do sewing and quilting, or how other folks just managed to create from what they have at hand?
Angela Franklin 6:29
Well, you know, the interesting thing is I have to pay homage. When I was living in Baltimore, there was a wonderful quote, her name was Barbara Pia Tila. Barbara was a friend of mine. She didn't live too far away. And I worked in another medium. She would always say, "You should make a quilt. You should make a quilt." And she said, "Come here one day. Come to my house and sketch out something. Let me show you." And Barbara was my instructor. Barbara showed me, and then she said to me now try to work with cotton, cotton fabrics. And I found that very interesting. I'll be it somewhat limited, because years later, I lived in the UAE, United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi for about eleven years. Linen and cotton were not so prevalent, like when you think of the women, and they wear the abayas.
Lisa Woolfork 7:14
Angela Franklin 7:14
The abayas are more silky and more crepe and more flowing. So one day a colleague told me, "We're not drawn to linen." She said, "I think it was the British who brought linen to us." And I said, "It seems to me you would be drawn because it seems cooler than the crepes and the silks, etcetera, in this blazing heat of a hundred and thirty degrees."
Lisa Woolfork 7:15
Angela Franklin 7:18
So I found a store that always had linen, and then I found a store that had beautiful patterned cotton from Malaysia. So I had to really make an effort to keep moving and moving and moving and finding. Everything you have in the U.S. you just don't replicate it. Whereas in Senegal, I always tell people it was a fabric overload. [Lisa laughs] So whenever I would go to the market, I mean, I would go crazy because the fabric was there. It was basically cotton. And it was from all the different countries. I was in West Africa and Dakar. So when I'm in Senegal, I could always get my fabric thing going—always. And it can be solid color. It can be patterned. So it just depends. And then when I moved to the Marshall Islands, I walked into a store maybe four days later, and you find those beautiful Hawaiian, Polynesian print fabrics. And it is just color, color, color, design, design, design. And I made a rule that if I'm going to be here, let me use fabric that is found here. Let me not rely on African fabric in the Pacific Islands. Or if I'm in the Middle East, let me rely on what I see there. So the fabrics kind of changed.
Lisa Woolfork 8:39
Angela Franklin 8:40
And that change shows where I'm moving on to etcetera.
Lisa Woolfork 8:44
It's really incredible because what that allows you to do is to both grow as an artist and to be connected to the community in which you are living. And so rather than saying, "Oh, I'm a quilter, and I live in the Marshall Islands, and there is no JoAnn fabric" or "There's not whatever. I can't somehow quilt." Every region you describe has a rich textile history and has their own priorities and how they resource materials. And so I think that it sounds like you get to really extend and stretch yourself as an artist based on your geography.
Angela Franklin 9:21
And the other things can become harder because I feel like in the Marshall Islands, it wasn't so easy to find, let's say acrylic paint. It just wasn't. And it wasn't so easy to find a wide variety of colors in thread, but at that point, I thought, who made that rule that green fabric must have green thread? Can use pink if it's all I have. You kind of see that change is starting to happen, because it became exhausting to order a thread from someplace else to come there. So those things start to happen. It's a nice evolution. It's nice.
Lisa Woolfork 9:51
It sounds so beautiful. I want to return to your college days, because this opened up an opportunity for you more recently. To help engage in the work of acknowledgement and repair, you attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, that has historical connections, many universities to slavery, the founding president, Bishop Edward Fenwick, was really well noted for helping to grow Catholicism in the Ohio and Kentucky regions, and he enslaved people in order to do so and to support his lifestyle and the work of the church and the work of the university. And so as part of a repair process, Xavier University created the Stained Glass Initiative. And I'm gonna pause here to say that there are quite a few Xavier universities, the ones that the listeners of this podcast might be more familiar with is the historically Black the HBCU, the historically Black college university Xavier University in New Orleans. We're talking about a different Xavier University, the one that Angela Franklin attended is Xavier University in Ohio, a Catholic institution in which she studied art. So tell me a bit about what that was like to study art at Xavier University of Ohio, and then be invited back to use your art to improve and help heal the university.
Angela Franklin 11:14
I think Xavier had a small but strong program for the arts. What I liked about it is that they did not have this regimented thing where there's fine art and craft, which you find so much. And usually women are relegated to craft and men are fine arts. So I was able to study painting, sculpture, printmaking, and I also studied enameling, ceramics. We had a wonderful teacher with batik and tie-dye. So I got to do all that without major hierarchy. And that was really valuable.
Lisa Woolfork 11:46
So it seems like even through your training, there were very few boundaries. There weren't the boundaries between arts and crafts. There weren't the boundaries between well, you're going to study this and be in this vein, and you are only going to work in this medium. You got to sample and have a very broad-based arts education that seems to encourage a lot of blurred lines or no lines at all.
Angela Franklin 12:10
I think so. And for me, it was a major thing. I used to enamel a lot, do a lot of copper enamel and glass fusing. And my whole passion right now is to go back to it. How did I recede from that? It's just the fact that it's not so easy to carry a kiln around the world with you.
Lisa Woolfork 12:28
Angela Franklin 12:29
Because when I showed up in Senegal, the U.S. was on one-ten, and Senegal was on two-twenty, a voltage.
Lisa Woolfork 12:36
Oh, so the electricity did not correspond. So even if you brought your kiln there, you couldn't plug it in.
Angela Franklin 12:42
I could plug it in. After a while I had someone build an adapter, but things that draw heat, like a kiln draws heat, when they draw heat, they really draw heat. So electricity was high in Senegal. So it wasn't like... In my studio in the U.S., I would turn on my kiln at eight or nine in the morning. I would enamel all day 'til four or five o'clock. But there was no such thing as doing that there because of the cost of electricity. And that's when I looked over and said, "Now that fabric over there is affordable." And that's when I started to switch that.
Lisa Woolfork 12:42
Angela Franklin 13:12
I think that was important. But going back to Xavier, when I first arrived, the idea was that I would also do more enameling, because they took me to see all the kilns they had there. So they hadn't been used in a while, and that was a great idea. But what happened is I arrived at the onslaught of COVID, like February-March two thousand, twenty.
Lisa Woolfork 13:33
Angela Franklin 13:33
So that redefined the whole period there. It didn't allow me to do as much research as I would want to do. I was working on a project with young artists at the Kennedy Heights Art Center, and we were to do eight sessions. We only got four done before they closed down. So again, everything had to flip, and, you know, you had to pivot to the right and pivot to the left to keep going. I mean in many ways I think it was kind of a trauma, but we kept going to create the four pieces.
Lisa Woolfork 14:03
September is National Sewing Month, and the Stitch Please podcast is going to celebrate that like we celebrate every episode—by centering Black women, girls, and femmes, and sewing. For September, however, we are going to be talking with Black women authors who are also sewists. So tune in for the month of September, and you will hear from writers like Bianca Springer, Hekima Hapa, Lesley Ware, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and more. So listen out for September, and we will help you get your stitch together.
We were speaking about geography earlier and how important it was that you kind of adapt to wherever you were in order to drill down into the local in order to source materials or to process. Like you said you couldn't run a kiln for eight hours a day in Senegal, when electricity is not structured in the same way, and it's much more expensive. And so you've changed your practice based on these different locations. I want to talk about the ways in which the Ohio-Kentucky border is so charged. Xavier University, y'all, as I said earlier, is in Cincinnati, Ohio. And Toni Morrison is a writer who is from Ohio. She's from Lorain, but she's from Ohio. And her book, "Beloved," talks about, in part, Sethe's escape from Kentucky into Ohio, where she believed that she'd be able to live free, and it's not possible. What I find so powerful about your work and the way that you are interested and thinking about enslavement and Black history and history of white dominance and white supremacy, all of these things that are important when we consider that Ohio-Kentucky border. It's kind of like, I think, the phrase you used was "not quite free," I believe, or...?
Angela Franklin 16:05
Lisa Woolfork 16:05
And so can you talk about that and how perhaps that led to the work in "My Soul to Keep"?
Angela Franklin 16:10
I was saying that when I was doing the Project Xavier, the nice part about it is that it required a bit of research because Fenwick was originally from Charles County, Maryland, and his people, his family, they had enslaved people. That was part of his father's legacy. Fenwick would inherit these people as well. But he also goes off—he leaves the U.S., I think goes to Belgium. And in Belgium, he becomes a Dominican Catholic priest. When he returns to the U.S., his father has gone, has passed, and he inherits this property, the people. And I think it was about maybe twelve. So he sold most of the land, but he brings the people with him to Kentucky. And his purpose of coming to Kentucky was to establish what is called the Saint Rose Priory, and it will become the first Dominican house in the United States. So he brings his enslaved people from Maryland to Kentucky, and then he buys more while he's in Kentucky. When I do the series of work, I said to everyone, it's not about the trauma of slavery; it was about the contributions that they made economically, the contributions. Because they would build the prior. They would build the buildings. There was a grist mill there that they used to mill like wheat and corn, and that generated revenue. So all of that was about it. After a certain point, Fenwick goes to Ohio. So at this point, you have to wonder, was he noble or was it just the law, because he can't take those enslaved people with him to Ohio because Ohio is a free state. So now he's in Cincinnati. He doesn't have these people, but the legacy and the contributions that they started will continue to fund his lifestyle as he moves into Cincinnati, Ohio. When you grow up in Cincinnati, you're always aware of that mighty Ohio River. And when you read books about slavery, they always talked about how, although it was cold and it was riskier, most times the slaves, if they could, they would try to run in the winter. Because there have been times when the Ohio River has frozen solid, that's how cold it is. And the belief that the stars were brighter the colder it was. They were more brilliant. When you stand on the Kentucky side, there's a house. It's called... It's in Ripley, Ohio. It's the Rankin house, and the Rankins were abolitionists. So the story was that you could see the house from the Kentucky side, and if there was a light in the window, that meant you could come. Enslaved people could come now. And if there was no light, that was kind of a sign: Do not come to the house now. The Ohio River had this legacy, a powerful role. But as you saw in "Beloved," at some point, the laws would become that if you escaped and you were free, there were new laws made that did allow the owner to cross into Ohio.
Lisa Woolfork 18:59
That's right, the Fugitive Slave Act.
Angela Franklin 19:01
Fugitive Slave Act—they could cross into Ohio and recapture you. So it's a muddled history in terms of what the river was and what the two states were together. It's pretty muddled.
Lisa Woolfork 19:11
Yeah, it definitely is. And the strong tension between dosing out freedom in small bites. You can come here, but only if the light is on. Add great peril to your own life. It really does remind us that these systems of violence were created with documents and with paper and with laws and all of these things, but that they absolutely devastated human people. To the point where I think that the stain—and I'm not sure if you could tell me a bit more about the Stained Glass Initiative and like if they were talking about—because when I thought stained glass, I was thinking like the stained glass artistry, which is also a part of it, but also the stained legacy of an institution that was able to thrive on the destruction of human life. That is a stain. And this is the thing I tell folks all the time: Slavery is not Black people shame. Black people should not be ashamed of having been enslaved. The shame is in white people. The shame is in those folks who could compromise so much of their own beliefs to basically enact the greatest crime against humanity in the pre-modern era. Just appalling. So I was really curious about that and about...I don't know. It's just such a powerful thing to think about geography when you start to think about it. So the Stained Glass Initiative specifically was about that?
Angela Franklin 20:40
Yes, the Stained Glass Initiative was established, from Xavier's perspective, to institutionalize racial repair and reconciliation. And I think what happened is, like you said in the beginning, other universities had this legacy. We all knew about what happened to Georgetown. Most people know about Georgetown, and the number of enslaved people that they had there that they sold, etcetera. So I think you start to see institutions come forward to acknowledge it and do something before they were outed or it came out. So I think that Xavier had this desire to explore their historical connections to slavery and to move forward. So the Stained Glass Initiative comes from that. The idea was for an artist to come in and create works of art that would go into the permanent collection of Xavier and to also do some community initiatives, etcetera, whether it was working with the students staff on the campus, or out in the neighboring community. But remember, COVID comes along. When they talked about it, they said the symbolism of stained glass captures the essence of Xavier's work concerning slavery and racism. So it says that our history is stained by slavery. So Xavier was committed to institutionalizing racial repair and reconciliation. And just as stained glass admits and reflects light in different ways, the Stained Glass Initiative seeks to acknowledge and perpetuate the diversity of experience and reflection that is needed to envision a better common good.
Lisa Woolfork 20:40
Angela Franklin 20:45
So this is how the idea comes forward to create the pieces. And like I said, the pieces were not about the trauma. We know the trauma. It was about the economic impact and the contribution and the presence of those enslaved people. The legacy that they left,
Lisa Woolfork 22:22
It was a way of saying the things that you currently enjoy.
Angela Franklin 22:27
My DNA is on that.
Lisa Woolfork 22:28
Yes, exactly that. So tell me about "My Soul to Keep." What is that project? I've seen the posters. It's absolutely beautiful. Can you share with us some of your motivations behind that and what the outcome has been?
Angela Franklin 22:42
The response to "My Soul to Keep" has been very positive. If you know anything about Dakar, Senegal, every two years, there's a phenomenal international exhibit that takes place throughout the city. It's called the Dakar Biennale.
Lisa Woolfork 22:56
Angela Franklin 22:57
So we had proposed this—myself and Phyllis Jeffers Coly working in collaboration—and we proposed this in two thousand, twenty. But again, COVID came along. Phyllis had just published her book this year, two thousand, twenty-two, called "We Got Soul, We Can Heal." And it's just a powerful book. And so much of what she was saying in the book was we made it to the pieces that I created. So we said, okay, we're gonna try this again, because the full title of the book was "We Got Soul, We Can Heal: Overcoming Racial Trauma Through Leadership, Community and Resilience."
Lisa Woolfork 22:57
Oh, that's wonderful. So it's like your art was a companion piece to that book?
Angela Franklin 23:15
Lisa Woolfork 23:15
Oh, my gosh.
Angela Franklin 23:17
And she talked about the pieces in two of her chapters, maybe two or three. She talks about some of my pieces because we had worked on a previous program in two thousand, twenty. So it was just natural that we put it together in that way. And her book is quite rich. I think it's layered, it's textured. And in my pieces, I talk about Mami Wata, and she talks about Mami Wata in her book. And I talk about the legacy of the red bird. I don't know, for some people, if you have that history where, if someone dies in your family, you see a red bird and you believe that the red bird has come to bring messages to you. We say a red bird brings a message from someone who's passed. I don't know, did you grow up hearing that?
Lisa Woolfork 24:28
I did not grow up hearing that. I did not grow up hearing that. But I love learning about Black people in our traditions. So thank you for telling me that.
Angela Franklin 24:37
Yeah. It's a way that someone who's passed—they're sending you a message. You, in return, can share a message to the red bird to take back to them.
Lisa Woolfork 24:45
Oh, that's beautiful.
Angela Franklin 24:47
And her book Phyllis Jeffers Coly says our ancestors are speaking to us spontaneously even when we do not seek them out, and our capacity to connect with them offers us another powerful way that we can heal our soul.
Lisa Woolfork 24:59
Yes, indeed. That I believe a thousand percent. I might not have seen a red bird, but I indeed believe that I get messages.
Angela Franklin 25:07
Yes, it's just like, do you choose to hear the message?
Lisa Woolfork 25:11
There you go.
Angela Franklin 25:12
So the pieces that were in the exhibit were related to... I had two sisters that had passed away in two thousand, eighteen or two thousand, nineteen. And the pieces really spoke about that experience. And how do you transition through the experience? And what do you learn from what happened? And how does it make you better? And how do you take it to the next place? So I don't know how other people who don't create how they transition through, but for me, it was natural to create.
Lisa Woolfork 25:39
That is such a beautiful process that you describe, because grief is so intimate, but also feels so public. And so I really appreciate in both ways, you seem like in the same way that for the Stained Glass Initiative, you said you didn't dwell on the trauma. You dwelled on the contributions. That is what you wanted people to know, to be acknowledged, to be seen and remembered. To have their names called.
Angela Franklin 26:04
Lisa Woolfork 26:04
That means something and it means a lot. And so I thank you for doing that work. As we start to wrap up, I must ask you this question. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. Angela Franklin, what advice would you offer to our listeners to help them get their stitch together?
Angela Franklin 26:04
I like that. What is it? Sometimes you see it on Facebook. It says, "Dance like you don't care if anyone's watching."
Lisa Woolfork 26:28
That's right. That's right. That's right.
Angela Franklin 26:30
We've always been taught to do those really neat stitches that no one can see, you know, very neat, delicate stitches. But what if it's purposeful? What if you want the person to see the lime green stitching over the red fabric? You know, make it purposeful. There's a time for delicate and refined, and there's a time to just stitch with wild abandon and create something just outstanding by doing that. And it took me a long time to get to that way because it was always "stitch neatly, stitch small, no one should see the stitch." And then sometimes when I exhibit a piece, and you can tell when someone comes from a very technical sewing background, they'll come up close. But then I'll say to them, "This is an art piece, and I went wild." So I think stitching should give you that kind of experience as well. And I do most of my pieces hand stitching and I enjoy it. I do. I do most of them by hand stitching. People say, "Boy, you've seen every movie on TV" because the TV or the radio's on when I'm stitching. [Lisa laughs] But I enjoy the process. It's calming. But I feel like there comes a time when I just want to stitch wildly.
Lisa Woolfork 27:29
I love that—the idea of stitching with wild abandon. That sounds incredibly fun. Just like this conversation has been incredibly fun. Thank you so much, Angela Franklin, for being with us today. Where can we find you? Where can we find out more about what you're doing and what you're up to?
Angela Franklin 27:46
On Instagram, it's Artist dot Angela Carole—C-A-R-O-L-E—Franklin. You can find me on Instagram and you can find me on Facebook. And I'm always updating—trying to update what I'm doing in the art world there.
Lisa Woolfork 27:59
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Angela Franklin 28:01
This has been great.
Lisa Woolfork 28:05
You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at Black Women Stitch at Gmail dot com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, and you can find Black Women Stitch there, in the Patreon directory. And for as little as two dollars a month you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews, but for those who do, for those that have like a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us at this Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week, and we'll help you get your stitch together.