The Faithful Work of Looking Again: In the Gallery with Faith Ringgold’s Coming to Jones Road #4: Under a Blood-Red Sky

Dominic Bellido ’24 reflects on Faith Ringgold’s Coming to Jones Road #4: Under a Blood-Red Sky, a recent museum acquisition currently on view at the Colby College Museum of Art in the Sally and Michael Gordon Gallery.

Faith Ringgold, Coming to Jones Road #4: Under a Blood-Red Sky, 2000. Acrylic on canvas with fabric borders, 78 ½ x 52 ½ in. (199 x 133 cm). Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisition Fund and Jetté Art Acquisition Fund, 2021.276

Unlike most American stories, Faith Ringgold does not begin hers in the top-left corner. Not exactly—although the sentences that describe the story of Coming to Jones Road #4 start in the upper-left section of the quilt, my eyes are first drawn to the outer-edges. Like sedimentary beds, Ringgold lays down bands of fabric that vary in color and design to enclose the central painting. Each abstract strip contains a different message, new layers that offer multiple entrances for the viewer to begin wandering through. Each glance provides another way in, and after staring for some moments, I realize that my interpretation will change depending on the route my gaze follows.

Where is that color that captures you? Which shade grabs you, and pulls you close? Do you look at the middle scene and work your way out? Or do you start at the border and work your way inward?

I choose the second option, although it is hard to lock my eyes onto a linear path. They pass through each fabric layer as if I were submerging myself in the deep crust of the quilt’s story, allowing the artist to move me back in time.

It’s a careful dance I follow—trying to hold the entire picture at the front of your mind while beginning to focus on the details. My meditation of color makes me notice how the blackness of the outermost band conflicts with the white wall behind the piece. In the Sally and Michael Gordon Gallery, the blank background wrings out vibrancy from the quilt. As I work my eye inward, a gradient of color emerges from each layer passed—I start with the black outer ring, the shade of a thunderstorm’s longing, moving from moss to emerald green, until I reach the bright yellow band that wraps around the painting like a hand-stitched gold frame.

Black letters of the story punctuate the yellow band. As I read, I also notice that edges from the green leaves of the painting’s trees periodically push into the yellow layer, sometimes covering words and letters. Ringgold’s trees provide protection for her story, just as they sew shadows of cover for the subjects of the central escape scene.

These colors connect to different aspects of the narrative unfolding at the core of the painting. Just as the escaping people travel between the green bushes, the outer two green bands of the quilt work to surround the painting, sheathing the group traveling to Jones Road. Through this lens, the outermost black band could represent the dark shadows that each person passes through along their journey.

Faith Ringgold arranges these natural colors—moss-green, yellow, midnight black—to metaphorically “protect” the escaping subjects. The voyage of each Black subject moving underneath the cool trees parallels the black letters being hidden under green bushes, black letters that stand out in their yellow milieu. 

This is not the first time that Ringgold has used green to signify protection. In American People Series #15: Hide Little Children, Ringgold also depicts a group of Black and white children enveloped by varying shades and shapes of green leaves.

Faith Ringgold, American People Series #15: Hide Little Children, 1966. Oil on canvas. 26 x 48 in. (66 x 121.9 cm). Private collection.

As art historian Anne Monahan writes, the green “camouflages a racially diverse set of children as flowers, perhaps to safeguard them from an unidentified threat.”

In Coming to Jones Road #4, Ringgold identifies this threat as the red that drowns each person, suffocating the air with the danger of capture that presses at their backs. Again, Ringgold is no stranger to the power of red; from the falling red arrows that pierce in pieces like American People Series #9: The American Dream; to the burning-red fabrics in The French Collection, she consistently uses red as a color tied to the anger over the racist, structural injustice that Black Americans face.

Faith Ringgold, Dancing at the Louvre (The French Collection Part 1: #1), 1991. Quilted fabric and acrylic paint. 73 ½ x 80 in. (186.7 x 203.2 cm). Gund Gallery, gift of David Horvitz ‘74 and Francie Bishop Good, 2017.5.6

In fact, the circumstances under which she painted the Coming to Jones Road series are linked to a similar struggle—in an essay Ringgold wrote for the Feminist Studies journal, she describes how, after she had moved to Jones Road, the local homeowners’ association sought to prevent her from building her own art studio: “For more than six years I struggled with the town board to obtain the permits necessary to override my neighbors’ opposition. . .”

 During her 2018 talk at the Tate Modern, Ringgold spoke about her experience of being “surrounded by hostile neighbors” and her motivation for continuing to fight. “I was shocked when these people were trying to prevent me. . . I felt indebted to [my great-grandmother] and to so many others to tell that story, and, of course, to get to build the studio.” Later on, she explains her choice of sky color in Coming to Jones Road #4 as part of her narrative. She says, “This guy was bothering me while I was painting, and I just got so mad with him, I painted the sky red, and then I thought, ‘Hey, that’s not bad. I like it.’”

As an artist, she constantly references the past labor of her family and other Black artists within her own works, akin to the act of suturing different threads to the same, indefinite quilt. Each shade in Coming to Jones Road #4 tells a story that becomes woven into the larger history that Ringgold pulls from, infusing her adversity into the larger narrative of Black people fighting against their own human and economic oppression.

When I look again at the quilt, I feel the painting pulling my eye upwards from the bottom, moving in the direction the people seem to be walking.

Although they wish to move “up” into the horizon, the larger body of the people, outlined in red, seem to form a falling arrow with their silhouettes. The group is split into two masses, a smaller one that leads and the rest of them who follow. The outer shape of the leading cluster creates a triangle, pointing downwards, so that their shape conflicts with the current they want to move in. They run up against both the natural and man-made obstacles that keep them from safety. And as the massive shrouds of green trees tower over them, the world they inhabit only makes them look smaller.

But they continue walking.

I imagine the trees bristling in the wind. Slick, drooping leaves that might whistle, or sigh. In her Feminist Studies piece, Ringgold says that the lush, green surroundings of her new home in New Jersey inspired her to make peace with the problems of her neighborhood—”. . . I have tried to couple the beauty of the place and the harsh realities of its racist history to create a freedom series that turns all the ugliness of spirit, past and present, into something livable.”

Her care for the spirit of life spills into every color within the painting. Not only does Ringgold reserve large portions of space to focus on the interlinked trees, she also outlines each tree trunk in a cool, blue color, providing a shield from the encroaching red that threatens to touch everything. Those tiny rivers of cold shadows that seem almost ethereal. The only other blue that appears in the quilt resides in a green outer-band, manifesting as cerulean stars that dance around the edges.

I blink—I’m getting tired of all the staring. I find myself wanting to stare up at the chalk-white moon, more proof of the heavens holding both light and darkness, all at once.

I close my eyes. Slow as a stream, the sounds of the gallery remind me of where I am: the humming mantra of the air conditioner, doors closing, visiting school children laughing in the stairwell. A heartbeat. I breathe, and the colors fade away, with only Ringgold’s moon searing a hole into the blood-red night that lies at the back of my eyelids. Around me, the gallery hushes, as if the outside could listen to my mind. I open my eyes, and begin the faithful work of looking again.

Sally and Michael Gordon Gallery at the Colby College Museum of Art. Photograph courtesy of Megan Adams, Anne Lunder Leland Curatorial Fellow


Monahan, Anne. “One on One: Faith Ringgold’s Die.” MoMA Magazine, 2018.

Ringgold, Faith. “Coming to Jones Road.” Feminist Studies 33, No. 2 (2007): 350–60.

Ringgold, Faith. Wallace, Michele. “Faith Ringgold: In Conversation | Tate Talks, Tate Modern, April 19, 2018.

Ringgold, Faith. “American People Series #15: Hide Little Children, 1966.” Oil on canvas.

Ringgold, Faith. “The American People Series #9: The American Dream, 1964.” Oil on canvas.

Ringgold, Faith, 1999. Coming to Jones Road #4: Under a Blood-Red Sky. Acrylic on canvas, quilted. Sally and Michael Gordon Gallery, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine.