Barbara Chase-Riboud

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Barbara Chase-Riboud (born June 26, 1939) is an internationally acclaimed visual artist, award-winning poet, and bestselling novelist.

Chase-Riboud attained international recognition with the publication of her first novel, Sally Hemings, in 1979. The novel has been described as the "first full blown imagining" of Hemings' life as a slave and her relationship with Jefferson.[1] In addition to stimulating considerable controversy, the book earned Chase-Riboud the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best novel written by an American woman and sold more than one million copies in hardcover.[2] She has received numerous honors for her work, including the Carl Sandburg Prize for poetry and the Women's Caucus for Art's lifetime achievement award.[1] In 1965, she became the first American woman to visit the People's Republic of China after the revolution.[3] In 1996, she was knighted by the French Government and received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.[4]

The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented beginning September 12, 2013 to January 28, 2014 a survey of her iconic Malcolm X steles, created between 1969-2008; Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles which will travel to the Berkeley Museum in 12 February - 28 April 2014. Her anthology of poetry from 1974 - 2008 is under press as well as her collected letters. This exhibition of some 40 works has an illustrated catalogue (ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7 PMA) (ISBN 978-0-300-19640-5 Yale) edited by Carlos Basualdo containing an extensive and new chronology of the artist.

Early life and education[edit]

Chase-Riboud was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only child of Vivian May Chase, a histology technician and Charles Edward Chase, a contractor.[5] She was suspended from her middle school after false accusations of plagiarism were levied against a poem she wrote.[6] Chase-Riboud displayed an early talent for the arts and began attending the Fleisher Art Memorial School at the age of 8. She continued her training at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art.[6] At 15, she won an award for one of her prints, which was subsequently purchased by the Museum of Modern Art.[5] Chase-Riboud went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Tyler School at Temple University in 1957.

In that same year, she won a John Hay Whitney fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome for 12 months. There, she created her first bronze sculptures and exhibited her work.[7] During this time, she traveled to Egypt, where she discovered non-European art.[7] In 1960, Chase-Riboud completed a master's degree from Yale University School of Design and Architecture.

After completing her studies, Chase-Riboud left the United States for London, then Paris.

Marriage and family[edit]

In Paris, Chase met the Magnum photographer Marc Riboud, whom she married in 1961. The couple had two sons and traveled extensively in Russia, India, Greece and North Africa.[7]

In 1981, Chase-Riboud married her second husband, art publisher and expert Sergio Tosi.[3]


Chase-Riboud began to garner broad attention from her artistic work in the latter half of the 1960s. Nancy Heller describes her work as "startling, ten-foot-tall sculptures that combine powerful cast-bronze abstract shapes with veils of fiber ropes made from silk and wool".[8]

Her first solo exhibition was at the Galleria L'Obelisco at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds in Italy in 1957. And her first solo exhibition in Paris was at the Galerie Cadran Solaire. Her first museum exhibition in Europe was held at MOMA Paris.

In 1971, Chase-Riboud was featured along with four other contemporaries in a documentary about African American artists entitled "Five." The segment on Chase-RIboud showed her installation in 1970 at the Betty Parsons Gallery, as well as the artist working in her studio.[9]

In 1993, Chase-RIboud received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Muhlenberg College.[10] Later, in 1996, she would also receive an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Connecticut.[10]

Following the display of her 1995 lithograph Akhmatova's Monument, Chase-Riboud was honored with the James Van Der Zee Award for lifetime achievement.[11]

The College Art Association awarded Chase-Riboud a Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.[12]

Literary career[edit]

Sally Hemings controversy[edit]

When Chase-Riboud first established her reputation as a sculptor, she gained widespread attention and critical acclaim for her writing with the publication of her first novel Sally Hemings (1979). In the Summer of 1974 Chase-Riboud had met with Jacqueline Onassis to discuss her plans for the work, and Onassis persuaded her to write it.[13] Chase-Riboud, as well as the historians Winthrop Jordan and Fawn M. Brodie, maintained that Jefferson fathered six children with Hemings, nearly 30 years younger than Jefferson and the half-sister of his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by her father John Wayles. Chase-Riboud's book became an international bestseller and won the Janet Heidegger Kafka Prize in Fiction by an American woman.[14] She had fully imagined the interior life of Sally Hemings, and the public accepted her portrayal of the relationship with Jefferson. Thus, introducing her as an American historical figure.

In 1998, after 21 years of contestation by Jeffersonians, a DNA study reported in the scientific journal Nature showed a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Eston Hemings, one of Sally's sons. It showed there was no connection to the Carr line, long proposed by Jefferson descendants as the father(s) of Hemings' children. (The DNA study also showed that Thomas Woodson was not a descendant of the Jefferson male line, although that family had a strong oral tradition of descent from Jefferson.)[15]

In 2000 and 2001 the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at Monticello, and the National Genealogical Society announced their conclusions that Jefferson had fathered Hemings' children.[16][17] Most historians accept this consensus, which has been reflected in academic writing about Jefferson and his times since then, Chase-Riboud having been the catalyst in changing Jeffersonian scholarship forever.

In 1991, Chase-Riboud won an important copyright decision, Granville Burgess vs. Chase-Riboud. Judge Robert F. Kelly concluded that while

"laws were not enacted to inhibit creativity . . . it is one thing to inhibit creativity and another to use the idea-versus-expression distinction as something akin to an absolute defense -- to maintain that the protection of copyright law is negated by any small amount of tinkering with another writer's idea that results in a different expression."[18]

The resulting decision constituted a significant victory for artists and writers, reinforcing protection for creative ideas even when expressed in a slightly different form.

Additional novels[edit]

Chase-Riboud continued her literary exploration into slavery with her second and third novels. Valide: A Novel of the Harem (1986) examined slavery in the Ottoman empire.[10] Her Echo of Lions (1989) was one of the first serious novels about the Amistad slave-ship revolt.

In 1997, Chase-Riboud settled a suit against DreamWorks for $10 million on charges of copyright infringement.[19] The author claimed that the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's film Amistad plagiarized her novel.[20] DreamWorks publicly accused Chase-Riboud of plagiarism of 'Black Mutiny' Variety December 4, 1997 "Battle Over Amistad, Adam Sandler' but it was established that the sole credited screenwriter on Amistad, David Franzoni had spent the previous 3 years starting in 1993 writing a script based on an option held by Dustin Hoffman's Punch production on Chase-Riboud's book, Echo of Lions,Vanity Fair, April 1998 "The Studios Aging Bulls" Kim Musters. When she began a second suit against DreamWorks in France, the dispute was quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed amount days before the 1998 Oscar nominations were announced. Variety, February 10, 1998 "'Amistad' Libel Case Settled," Vanity Fair April 1998 "The Studios Aging Bulls."

In 1994, Chase-Riboud published The President's Daughter, a work that continued the Sally Hemmings Story.[11]

Works of Poetry[edit]

Chase-Riboud's first work of poetry, From Memphis & Peking, was edited by Toni Morrison and published to critical acclaim.[9]

In 1988, Chase-Riboud published Portrait of a Nude Woman as Cleopatra, a book of poetry for which she won the Carl Sandburg Award for best American poet.[10]

In 1994, Chase-RIboud published Roman Egyptien, a book of poetry written in French.[11]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1957, John Hay Whitney Fellowship
  • National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
  • 1979, Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best novel written by an American woman, for Sally Hemings.[2]
  • 1988, Carl Sandburg Prize for poetry[1]
  • 1995, James Van Dar Zee Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 1996, knighted by the French Government and awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.[21]
  • 1997, commissioned by the United States General Services Commission for the memorial Africa Rising cited that year as the Best Sculpture in a Federal Building at 240 Broadway, site of the African Burial Ground
  • 2005 American Library Association Black Caucus Award for fiction for Hottentot Venus
  • 2007, College Art Association Women's Caucus for Art lifetime achievement award.[1]

Selected works[edit]


  • Confession for Myself (1973)
  • Malcolm X (1970)
  • Cleopatra's Cape (1973)
  • Africa Rising (1998)
  • "Mao's Organ" (2008)




  1. ^ a b c d "Imagining Sally Hemings". Frontline. WGBH educational foundation. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  2. ^ a b "Barbara Chase-Riboud". African American Literature Book Club., LLC. Archived from the original on 14 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  3. ^ a b "Barbara Chase-Riboud". Voices from the Gap: Women Artists and Writers of Color. The University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on 8 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  4. ^ "People", International Herald Tribune, March 23, 1996
  5. ^ a b Smith, Jessie C. 1991. "Barbara Chase Riboud." in Notable Black American Women, p. 177.(Gale Cengage)
  6. ^ a b Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  7. ^ a b c Smith, Jessie C. 1991. "Barbara Chase Riboud," in Notable Black American Women, p. 178.(Gale Cengage)
  8. ^ Heller, Nancy G. (1987). Women Artists: An Illustrated History, P. 191. (Cross River Press)
  9. ^ a b Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  10. ^ a b c d Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  11. ^ a b c Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  12. ^ Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  13. ^ Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  14. ^ Chase-Riboud, Barbara (2013). The Malcolm X Steles. Philadelphia Museum of Art. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7. 
  15. ^ Foster, EA; Jobling MA, Taylor PG, Donnelly P, de Knijff P, Mieremet R, Zerjal T, Tyler-Smith C (1998). "Jefferson fathered slave’s last child," Nature 396 (6706): 27–28. doi:10.1038/23835. PMID 9817200. 
  16. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account", Monticello Website, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, accessed 22 June 2011. Quote: "Ten years later [referring to its 2000 report], TJF and most historians now believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings."
  17. ^ Helen F. M. Leary, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, pp. 207, 214 - 218 Quote: Leary concluded that "the chain of evidence securely fastens Sally Hemings' children to their father, Thomas Jefferson."
  18. ^ Cohen, Roger. "Judge Says Copyright Covers Writer's Ideas of a Jefferson Affair," New York Times, August 15, 1991.
  19. ^ Weinraub, Bernard. "Filmmakers Of 'Amistad' Rebut Claim By Novelist", New York Times, December 4, 1997
  20. ^ "The second Amistad case: 'Outright Plagiarism' or 'Who Owns History?' Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks, Inc., 1998". The Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  21. ^ "People", International Herald Tribune, 23 March 1996

Further reading[edit]

  • Women Artists: An Illustrated History. Nancy Heller, 1987. (Cross River Press)
  • ART: African American. Samella Lewis, 1990. (Hancraft Press)
  • History of Art. H.W. Janson, 1995. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)
  • Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists. Lisa E. Farrington, 2004. (Oxford University Press)
  • Barbara Chase-Riboud: Sculptor. Peter Selz & A. Janson, 1999 (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) ISBN 978-0-8109-4107-6
  • Notable Black American Women. Jessie Carnie Smith, 1991 (Gale Cengage) ISBN 978-0-8103-4749-6
  • Callaloo. Barbara Chase-Riboud, 2009 (Johns Hopkins University Press) ISSN 0161-2492
  • Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles Catalogue. Carlos Basualdo & BCR, 2013 (Philadelphia Museum of Art & Yale University Press) ISBN 978-0-87633-246-7 PMA & ISBN 978-0-300-19640-5 Yale

Related Links[edit]