Award-winning visual artist, children’s book author-illustrator, and teacher Faith Ringgold, widely acclaimed for her works depicting African American heroines and themes, and for her unique “story quilt” medium, died on April 13 at her home in Englewood, N.J. She was 93.

Ringgold was born October 8, 1930, in Harlem, to Andrew Jones, a sanitation worker, and Willi Jones, a dressmaker and fashion designer known professionally as Madame Willi Posey. As a child, Ringgold suffered bouts of asthma and was often kept home from school, passing the time with some of her favorite things: listening to jazz on the radio and drawing. Her parents encouraged her artistic interests with storytelling and trips to museums, and Ringgold’s mother taught her how to sew. In a 1991 interview with PW, Ringgold recalled that her mother told tales of her own great-grandmother, an enslaved woman in Florida who made quilts as one of her tasks on the plantation.

After graduating from George Washington High School in Manhattan, Ringgold enrolled at City College of New York to pursue an art degree. In 1950, she put college temporarily on hold when she married jazz pianist Robert Earl Wallace and subsequently welcomed two daughters. Ringgold resumed her studies following the end of her marriage in 1954 and received her B.S. in visual art from City College in 1955. She then took a position teaching art to children in New York City public schools, working in Harlem and the Bronx, a career track that would last 18 years as she simultaneously tried to establish herself as a painter. In 1959, she completed her M.S. in visual art, also from City College.

In 1962, Ringgold married Burdette Ringgold. She traveled to Europe with her family around that time to see many of the great works of art that she had studied. Ringgold noted on her website that the experience, along with the rise of the civil rights movement in the U.S., inspired her to create the political paintings in her The American People series, between 1963 and 1967. Those pieces resulted in her first solo exhibitions at the Spectrum Gallery in New York City and also marked the beginning of Ringgold’s role as a social justice activist. In 1968, she partnered with others to protest the omission of Black artists from an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art featuring sculptors from the 1930s. And in 1970, she helped form the Ad Hoc Women’s Committee to protest the near exclusion of women in the Whitney’s annual show. She continued to champion the rights of women and African American people throughout her life.

Ringgold took her art in new directions in the early 1970s as she began to make tankas—a type of Tibetan art featuring a painting framed with silk brocade or other rich textiles—and she also created soft sculptures and African-inspired masks, which she used in some of her own performance art. She received a travel grant from the American Association of University Women in 1976 to travel to Ghana and Nigeria, where she was able to observe the tradition of mask-making firsthand.

In 1980, Ringgold collaborated with her mother to make her first quilt, “Echoes of Harlem.” She considered quilts a natural progression from her tanka pieces and she eventually created a style all her own, using quilted fabric as a border for her painted panels, and adding text. She completed her first “story quilt,” “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?,” in 1983.

A 1988 show of Ringgold’s Women on a Bridge series of story quilts at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in New York proved a turning point in her career. The first piece in the series, “Tar Beach,” featured a central acrylic painting of a girl on the tarpaper roof of her family’s Harlem apartment building in the 1930s, framed with quilted borders and including two canvas panels that tell the girl’s story of how her dreams of feeling free come true when she’s in that special locale.

“I started writing stories on quilts because I couldn’t get a publisher,” Ringgold told PW in 1991. “[It] seemed an excellent opportunity to get my work published without dealing with publishers, editors, or anyone else. Anyone who saw my art would get the story as well.”

That strategy changed a bit when Ringgold received a phone call from Andrea Cascardi, then executive editor at Crown Books for Young Readers. Cascardi had seen a poster advertising Ringgold’s art exhibition and featuring an image of “Tar Beach” in a colleague’s office and thought it would make a fine children’s book. Cascardi and Crown art director John Grandits paid a visit to Ringgold, and she soon signed a contract for her first book. The resulting Tar Beach was published in February 1991 to warm critical praise, receiving the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and a Caldecott Honor in 1992. The original “Tar Beach” story quilt is in the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

“The Tar Beach quilt came from a memory from my childhood: going with my family up to the roof of our building, where I can see the George Washington Bridge. I find bridges so compelling and so wonderful,” Ringgold told PW in a 2016 interview, on the occasion of the book’s 25th anniversary.

More book projects followed, including Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky (Crown, 1992), a companion to Tar Beach in which the protagonist of that book, Cassie, and her brother Be Be have a magical encounter with Tubman and discover some of their ancestors’ flight from slavery. My Dream of Martin Luther King (Crown, 1996) and If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks (Simon & Schuster, 1999) are among the 18 books for young readers she created over the span of her career.

Ringgold continued to work with art students around the country as a lecturer and was a professor of art at the University of California, San Diego from 1987 to 2002, splitting her time between studios in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem and La Jolla, Calif., during that period. She was later named professor emeritus at UCSD.

She has received recognition for her artwork over the years including a National Endowment for the Arts Award for sculpture in 1978 and for painting in 1989; a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for painting in 1987; and the Medal of Honor for Fine Arts from the National Arts Club in 2017. In addition to more than 75 awards, Ringgold was the recipient of 23 honorary doctorate of fine arts degrees.

Her art has been exhibited around the world and, in addition to the Guggenheim, appears in the permanent collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, and the American Craft Museum, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the High Museum of Atlanta.

Ringgold’s first editor, Andrea Cascardi, now a literary agent at Transatlantic Agency, shared this remembrance: “Working with Faith was an honor and a joy. I was struck by how focused she was on making sure that the Tar Beach book was as thoughtfully crafted as her story quilt. Even though we brought the idea to her, it seemed that Faith always knew that Cassie’s story belonged not just in a museum but out in the world in the hands of children. Faith shared this treasured story that sprang from her own childhood memories, understanding how important this book could be for young readers, with absolute delight. I can still hear her distinctive voice when she, John Grandits, and I would review the details of the book during each stage, as she fully embraced the process. She wanted generations of children to know and experience her Tar Beach, and to transport us all, adults and children alike, to that Harlem rooftop on a hot summer night with the bridge just beyond.”