In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Earline Green, a ceramic artist, spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about her work that is currently in the “Formation” show at Kinfolk House, on view through Nov. 12.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the discussion, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Marcheta Fornoff: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I wanted to ask you about the piece on Henrietta Lacks that is now on display at Kinfolk House.
Earline Green: OK. In 2011, David Kirkland invited a group of artists to respond to Rebecca Skloot’s book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” And when I read the book, I thought about her time, her family tree and the timeline. I used the nautilus as a symbol of her life evolving. The block is divided into two colors. The purple (represent) physical descendants. The blue are the cures that were created during their lifetime.
Fornoff: Mmhmm. So it’s not just what her cells were able to do during the time she was alive, but in the several generations after.
Green: Right. Because if you look at the block, you will see a small section that indicates her children right up under her eye. And then it revolves out and there are cures that were created from the time her children were older to her grandchildren’s birth(s), and then more cures were created. The cells are continuing to evolve, the same as the life of the children or her descendants.
Fornoff: Her story is a big one, and it’s more well known today because of the book and because of adaptations of it. I’m curious if that felt daunting.
Green: Don’t ask me how I did that. I call it divine intervention. I start working and one thought leads to another, and it continues. Actually, I attempted to do a similar piece earlier this year, and it wouldn’t work. It just continued to flop. And I came to the conclusion that the piece that I did in 2011 was definitely divine intervention. I said, a miracle happened in that garage because I can’t figure out how to replicate that piece. So, yeah, divine intervention.
If you go
Current exhibit: On view through Nov. 12
Hours: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday
11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday – Saturday
Noon – 5 p.m. Sunday
Location: Kinfolk House
1913 Wallace St.
Fort Worth, TX 76105
Fornoff: Talk to me (about) how you got into this art form in the first place.
Green: Ceramics? Would you like to go back to playing in mud on my grandparents farm? (Laughs)
Fornoff: Is that when you think it started?
Green: Not really. But I am thinking that there has always been this connection to the earth. And when I started teaching middle school, I discovered clay. It was just a stress reliever, and it just kept me grounded, literally.
I decided to go back to school and get a degree in art education. During that process, I took ceramics class and decided to change my major to ceramics, so I have an MFA in ceramics from Texas Woman’s University.
Fornoff: And over time, definitely since the playing on the porch days, I’m sure your technique in your style changed a lot. I wanted to talk also about the ceramic pieces that mimic cloth, but they’re made out of clay. Can you talk more about that project and how you were able to get those to take shape?
Green: My ceramic quilts were inspired by my grandmother, Virginia Johnson.
I was different as a child. I wanted to know things and I asked a lot of questions. My elders enjoyed that because they enjoyed telling stories.
When I started talking to my grandmother about her quilts, she told me that her grandmother taught her how to quilt, and she talked about the different patterns that she would use to make quilts. And one of the patterns that really intrigued me was called a string quilt, where pieces of fabric torn into maybe a half-an-inch-strip and sewn together. And that was my approach to Henrietta’s block.
Fornoff: Yeah, a quilt block with a bunch of different pieces incorporated together. But then you have these other quilt blocks that also represent multiple generations, but it’s your own family.
Green: That is called “Rose to Arlynn.” Arlynn is my daughter. Rose was my grandmother’s grandmother.
What is happening in that piece … It started out as a conversation about things women carry in their bosoms. As a kid growing up, I remembered grandmothers and great grandmothers tying the money in a handkerchief and sticking it in their bosom. Well, I got curious and started wondering, so what are people putting in their bosoms now? Are people still using this security method to keep up with things?
On the fabrics, there are three actual pieces that the impressions were made from. There was a section of my grandmother’s quilt block, my great grandmother’s embroidery and my mother’s crocheting. And on those pieces, there are some knots that represent something being tied in the fabric. And on the face of it, is a stylized image of the granddaughter. So it’s a conversation between grandmothers and granddaughters.
And where do you hold things that are near to you? In your bosom.
Fornoff: Yeah. What is it about that relationship and those relationships within your own family that you wanted to highlight and codify in this physical representation?
Green: I want them to be remembered forever, and this is the only way I can make sure that their legacies continue.
We’re not talking about legacies of academics or money. We’re talking about legacies of love that transpire in families. If I had done the series with mothers and daughters, I don’t think anyone would have believed it. But to have a conversation between grandmothers and granddaughters is believable because I had a wonderful relationship with mine. And they were two women that really didn’t get along with a lot of other people.
Fornoff: I’m curious about why the mothers and daughters piece isn’t as believable.
Green: Because I have a daughter. (Laughs)
Fornoff: And those relationships are more complicated?
Green: They’re more complicated because they’re closer and you want to guide your child in the right direction. Whereas grandmothers want to say, “Oh, that’s okay. You’ll do it better next time.” Everyone’s relationship with their daughter is not volatile, but it’s just a softer relationship with your grandmother.
Fornoff: Right, there’s distance because they’re not necessarily the disciplinarian.
Green: Exactly. Nail on the head.
Fornoff: What do you want people to remember about your grandmother?
Green: Both of them were loving women, although they were a little complicated in terms of how they dealt with other people. But I never saw that side of them. I can remember my mom telling me stories about my grandmother and my father’s mother, but I never saw that side of them.
The quilts were actually inspired by my matrilineal grandmother, Virginia Johnson. It started back in the 90s, actually. I think the first piece was called “Rags, Polyester and Clay,” or something like that. She was into the polyester scene back in the seventies and eighties.
Fornoff: I’m curious if you might talk a little bit about the process. The way that clay is draped, you would think it is fabric until you get up close and you can tell it’s not. How did you get that to happen? Especially since these are pieces that are vertically hanging, which creates a challenge because you’re fighting gravity when you’re making it.
Green: You’re making it flat on them on a table and it mimics the wall. So that wasn’t complicated at all.
Fornoff: You’re making it flat, but you want it to drape as if it were hanging. I feel like the kind of complicated part is how you get those nice folds when it’s all flat…
Green: It has to be at a certain consistency when you’re working with it. It almost has to be to the point that you can fold it and it doesn’t stretch. The way I accomplished that is by leaving it on a sheet of plastic and manipulating the clay underneath the plastic in sections to create the folds. Now, if I tried to do it all at once out of one block, it wouldn’t work. The block has to be cut apart in smaller sections and then put back together.
Fornoff: Yeah. And you mentioned you wanted to do this particular set of pieces because you wanted it to last forever, that legacy. And I’m curious, now that you’re retired, how you approach your artwork and what legacy you hope will be there with what you’ve made.
Green: Now that I’m retired, I will continue to promote my matrilineal heritage. I will also promote other women’s heritage if they want. I have a granddaughter, but she’s not my matrilineal granddaughter. She’s my son’s daughter, so I’m going to have to create her legacy as well. And I spend quite a bit of time working with the Wilson Pottery Foundation, trying to make sure the Wilson potters’ legacy continues as well.
Fornoff: Perfect. Thank you so much for your time.
Green: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.