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A kindred spirit for creative souls

Nicole Ringgold is making Sunday’s Arts Walk as bold as her Ordway mural.   - Julie Busch photo
Nicole Ringgold is making Sunday’s Arts Walk as bold as her Ordway mural.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Nicole Ringgold is working to revive the island’s Arts Walk.

Art is the constant in Nicole Ringgold’s life.

Within its embrace, she has thrived, emotionally and creatively. It has helped her through rough patches and brings her the most joy, apart from her family. Using art, she has reached out to others as a means of service and connection.

“I think I have an art addiction,” said Ringgold, laughing.

She is the Western District director for the Youth for Understanding USA, an international exchange program in Seattle, an artist specializing in mural commissions and painted furniture and the manager of the Bainbridge Island Arts Walk, which makes its bigger and bolder debut on Sunday.

Ringgold grew up in Switzerland, France and the East Coast. Art was her way of dealing with her new surroundings and the frustrations they caused.

“In high school in Switzerland I did a British A level (an exam that requires advanced knowledge) in art and that really pushed my interest,” she said.

Ringgold earned a B.A. in studio art and sociology at Wittenberg University in Ohio, where she focused on painting, She then took a year of courses at The Art League School in Alexandria, Va.

Riggold’s love of travel and cultures led her to the Peace Corp as a nutritionist in Niger in West Africa for three years. She worked with women and children on health, sanitation, nutrition and family planning issues.

“I plunged into being creative. People were dying of meningitis and cholera all around me. It was the way that I survived,” Ringgold said. “I was the only white person.”

Back in her mud hut with the thatched roof, Ringgold painted walls, dried mud and ceramic pots.

“Mostly African faces, hands, feet, anything I could look at,” she said.

Africa is where Ringgold began painting murals alongside local youth and met her husband.

They moved to Cape Cod, Mass., and then Seattle. Ringgold earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology and art therapy in 2002. She worked in mental health counseling while continuing to paint murals and “functional art.”

“I love doing furniture in a collage style, on the tops and sides and legs,” said Ringgold. “You don’t get bored with just painting on a flat surface.”

Ringgold and her husband have been islanders for 3 ½ years. Seattle was “too cemented,” she said, while Bainbridge offered a great community for art, raising a family and outdoor pursuits.

Ringgold generally accepts one or two commissions a month. Her latest mural surrounds the popular rock climbing wall in the Ordway Elementary School gym, a project she initiated and enjoyed doing.

“They had a particular theme in mind,” said Ringgold, who incorporated native trees, ferns, butterflies and wildlife into the colorful naturescape, along with otters, the school’s mascot.

“I’m trying to pull away and do only art,” said Ringgold, who became manager of the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council’s Arts Walk because she loves public art in public spaces.

Despite the BIAHC’s state of disarray – executive director Nancy Frye’s resignation is effective May 15 and there’s talk of disgruntlement on the board - Ringgold remains positive about reinvigorating Arts Walk in its 20th year.

She has more venues and artists on board for Sunday’s event than participated last year and community excitement is mounting.

“I’m feeling really good. I think the artists are quite enthusiastic,” Ringgold said.

Artists are distributing posters and venues are spreading the word. To make sure participating gallerys and shops are easy to find, Ringgold purchased – and will place – flags on the flower posts along Winslow Way on Sunday.

Set for display are a variety of works, including photography, paintings, garden art, painted furniture and jewelry, which will connect people to the change in the season, Ringgold said.

More than 40 artists have signed up for the event. Those who requested an outdoor spot will stand on Winslow Green, next to American Marine Bank and in the Winslow courtyard off Eriksen. About 25 others have been matched with venues.

“The combination of indoor/outdoor artists will help bring the art out to the community and the community into the art (and) create a more festive atmosphere,” Ringgold said.

Adding to the fun is the musical aspect, which will include a saxophonist, a marimba band and a drumming circle at the Green.

The Arts Walk now is a twice yearly affair – May and October – “until it’s rejuvenated,” Ringgold said. “It’s a really cool, cool event. There are not too many things like it.

“And it’s the weekend before Mother’s Day. It’s a great place to come.”

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Artful Sunday

Music combines with art at the revamped Bainbridge Island Arts Walk, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 7. Artists will showcase an array of work – paintings, jewelry, photography and garden art - along Winslow Way, indoors and out. Flags will signal participating venues and musicians will perform on the Green and in Winslow Mall. Arts Walk is a program of BIAHC; call 780-2246 or email www.nicoleringgold.com.

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