WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 1001

Nneka Jones creates captivating imagery with paint and expertly detailed embroidery that serves as a connection to her Caribbean roots. Harpist and singer Calvin Arsenia connects with audiences through his unique approach to classical music. Ceramicist Ruth Rippon makes fine art pieces. An exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio showcases Black artists and photographers.

AIRED: February 04, 2021 | 0:26:45

- [Narrator] This is a production

of WEDU PBS, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus,

is provided through The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor, who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU.

And by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969.

- [Dalia] In this season 10 premiere of WEDU Arts Plus,

a Tampa fiber artist receives national attention

for her embroidery work.

- I didn't want my work to just sit on the wall at a gallery

or just sits on a wall at your home.

I wanted it to reside beyond that, and reside in your mind

and evoke some kind of emotion out of you.

- [Dalia] A new path for the harp.

- A lot of times I am able to be the first harpist

that people have seen, and I feel really,

it's really cool to me.

It's also kinda scary because I don't play conventionally.

- [Dalia] An artist and a teacher.

- I always thought of them as my children

since I had none of my own.

- [Dalia] And photographs of family.

- You can enter into a museum or gallery,

and after seeing a show, you can go back into the world

and actually see the world a new.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU Arts Plus.

(soft music)

Hello, I'm Dalia Colon and this is WEDU Arts Plus.

Fiber artists Nneka Jones combines paint

and embroidery to create stunning portraits.

Her work is symbolic of current social issues,

as well as her Caribbean roots,

and has garnered national attention.

(soft music)

- A lot of the times, the first question that I get is,

what is the material that I used, or what's that texture?

And the second thing is, who is the girl?

Are you related to her?

Where did she come from?

How do you know her?

And so with that first question

is exactly what I want you to do.

Question what the texture is on the piece,

go closer to the piece, kind of figure out

and look through the cracks of the piece and realize that,

it's not just thick paint on the surface,

it's actually condoms beneath that.

But also leading from the texture

of the condoms into her actual face,

you notice that she's kind of representative

of young girls of color, that have been put

in this situation of sex trafficking or human trafficking.

What I do is based on different images,

I kind of collage them in Photoshop, so that I come up

with this image that looks like it's one person

but it's actually a collage of different girls.

It's basically that symbol of representing

every young girl of color.

(soft music)

- Nneka's work is delicate and detailed.

She's intricate in every element of the texture

she's working on, the tone and temperature of her works,

the color choices, and so if you like something that's rich

and full of all overlapping meaning using color and form,

Nneka's work really satisfies that,

but it also has a deeper context.

And so she uses the different forms of art,

to really explore things

that are often difficult to say out loud.

She takes on amazing subject matter,

really putting a mirror up to society.

- When I view Nneka's artwork, one word comes to mind,

one word would dominate my thinking,

and that would be profound.

And a piece that comes to mind

is a piece she did on cancer awareness.

Where she actually created the image of a lady,

with one of her breasts removed, so that I saw that

the work she produced was not surface level type art,

but very profound, deep thinking productions.

- Since coming to the US I think I've developed

more of my narrative side of my artwork.

Because I had a bit of technical skill before,

but I still felt like that artistic voice was lacking.

And when I really started to get into

my different classes at UT,

I realized that I didn't want my work

to just sit on the wall at a gallery,

or just sit on a wall at your home.

I wanted it to reside beyond that, and reside in your mind,

and evoke some kind of emotion out of you.

(soft music)

- Nneka was one of our four daughters, our last daughter,

and Nneka was always independent.

One of the things I clearly remember of Nneka growing up,

is that ability to take charge of her own life,

and being in a position to recognize where she wants to go.

And what are the next steps.

- I actually grew up in Trinidad and Tobago.

I was born in Trinidad, and eventually I actually realized

that I had a passion for arts,

and after placing first in the Caribbean,

in my high school exams, I decided that it was best

that I continue to pursue an education in arts

and try to pursue a career in arts.

Being influenced by the Caribbean culture,

I also wanted to experience culture outside of that.

And so that kind of drew me to coming the US,

and looking into different schools here.

And when I came to the University of Tampa,

I took a few classes, a few sculpture classes,

drawing classes, et cetera.

But it was truly when I took my experimental painting class,

that I found my artistic voice

because I kind of loosened up a little bit.

The professor Chris Valle told us he wanted us

to create a painting ,without using paints.

Immediately I was like, "how am I going to create

a painting without using paint?"

Like, "how am I going to find materials

that I could manipulate, to look like a painting?"

And so that's actually when I did some research

and I discovered embroidery.

And I just continued developing my work from there,

and kind of learning the material and the technique,

but also learning how can I incorporate meaning,

behind this and how can I make these pieces narrative.

(soft music)

- She really started a lot of her growth

while she was here at UT.

And so she really developed a following,

starting in 2017, 2018.

And her background as a marketing major,

also really kind of led her to springboard

into what a lot of artists need to do,

especially young and up and coming artists need to do,

which is self market.

- My mom used to sew,

she would always have me thread needles for her.

That was like the only thing that she would let me do.

So I think now I'm like approved basically,

at threading needles.

It's kind of interesting that's now

I'm kind of like a seamstress,

but I'm sewing these portraits.

(soft music)

Coming up to my final graduation show,

and then having COVID happen and the pandemic happened,

so I had graduated virtually, and about three months

after that, I actually got an email from

one of the art directors at Time Magazine.

And in the email he had expressed to me,

that he was blown away by the fact that

my work was hand embroidered, which was exactly

what I learned at the University of Tampa.

And he's telling me that my work is worthy

of being on the cover of the magazine.

(soft music)

And after doing the cover for Time Magazine,

so many opportunities have come to me.

I'm kind of on that journey now of,

kind of balancing that confidence and being able to say,

"Yes, I am an artist and yes I am a contemporary artist

and I will be successful."

- Nneka is truly special.

She sees things in such a positive way,

while taking on very difficult subjects.

And that is something that we need today.

(soft music)

- [Dalia] To learn more, visit

Kansas City, Missouri native Calvin Arsenia

defies musical genres, with his classically trained voice

and unique approach to playing the harp.

Arsenia creates a special connection with his audience.

(upbeat music)

- [Dalia] The summer of 2016,

saw a unique birthday celebration for unique landmark,

and in fitting fashion, the party was just as an Orthodox.

Arts of all kinds were put on display for huge crowds,

that filtered in throughout the day, from dance,

to opera, culinary, to an array of music, ranging

from familiar Casey faces,

to someone who's been quietly shaking up the scene

with very different take.

( soft harp music)

♪ Woooooh ♪

♪ Has nothing that I'd love to do ♪

♪ Darling, and walk with me ♪

At 26, multi-instrumentalist Calvin Arsenia,

isn't merely looking to sound good.

That would be too simple.

No, he's looking to change the atmosphere

by creating moments of transcendence.

- I have a very high expectation for music and live music

in particular, to influence and transform a space

and audience and whether they feel in that room

in that time, to create these moments

where people leave inspired and refreshed.

And, you know, there's a little bit of pressure,

I love playing with tension and music,

but that pressure turns into release, you know,

it's like a massage where you're needing the nuts,

through dissonant chords and then all of a sudden,

you go into this very serene

and, you know, major chords, and because of that,

it's really hard for me to go into a room,

and have I determined what songs I wanna play,

or how I'm going to play them.

Because I really want to meet my audience where they are,

and invite them into my space,

and then we go somewhere together.

- [Narrator] Calvin began his relationship

with the harp in 2010, after sensing

the possibilities via Florence and the machine.

♪ Happiness, pick paw ♪


And Joanna Newsome

♪ The days were shorter ♪

♪ I was sure is she came round ♪

♪ I'd hold my ground ♪

- And I've always been a little bit more ambitious

than I ought to be.

And so I went on a hunt around to Kansas city

to look for a harpist that would play with me.

What I found was a whole bunch of people

who were very classically trained and were beautiful people,

but to play, you know, original compositions,

to do the rehearsal time to move the harp like

it was gonna be quite a task to ask of anybody.

So I found a harp to do that, let me rent a harp

and I couldn't afford to rent the harp and to take lessons.

So I just took the harp and I learned YouTube

for about a year and it was horrible.

- [Narrator] Fortunately.

- It's really hard to make actually like bad sound

in the harp, and so I would take it everywhere.

- [Narrator] But everywhere

doesn't include international travel.

In 2012, Calvin joined a mission trip

to Edinburgh Scotland, meaning man and harp would have

to part, but that didn't last for long.

- And I made it about one or two weeks before

I was like craving a harp.

And I was like, "I have to play, I have to have to play."

And so I rented another one and I took it to every kind

of jam session and open mic that I could,

and I remember sometimes I'll be playing of those

of the mics, and my hands would just tremble

and tremor and and my voice, I was just so nervous (laughs)

because of the guitar, the piano, like I'd been confident

on those for a long time before I was actually playing

in the expectation, you know, for me to be able

to deliver what I wanted to do on an instrument.

Like I had that expectation on myself

and I had made that expectation for my audience.

And so, yeah, I would just shake.

And then, you know, three years later here I am,

and it's what I do for a living.

And it's kinda cool.

♪ If I said the devil made me do it ♪

♪ That be the easy way out ♪

♪ But it was God Himself the dug me ♪

♪ Out of the ditch of doubt ♪

♪ The choices I made got me here ♪

A lot of times that I am able to be the first harpist

that people have seen,

and I feel really, it's really cool to me.

It's also kind of scary because I don't play conventionally.

So it's cool because I get, I love to take the harp

in places that it's never been before.

But sometimes I do get booked and asked

to play like banjo or guitar or something.

And sometimes I get confused and I show up at the venue,

like with a harp and nothing else,

and they're like, "wait we thought

you were gonna play guitar."

Like but I brought a harp. (laughs)

- [Narrator] Besides having several albums

under his belt, and the packed performance schedule.

Calvin also makes time

for a handful of exceptional students.

- But I wanted to go in to teach one of my students,

his name is Reno, and he plays piano and Reno plays

by ear really, really well, loves to improvise

but I just try to give him some more vocabulary,

in what he's doing and some different kind of ways

to approach melody and points and as well as technique.

I think my job is to help people fall in love

with the process of learning ,

and learning how to be self-sufficient,

and kind of unveiling these different kinds

of codes, concepts, and nuances, rather than trying

to teach them how to memorize a piece.

It's more important to me that they're able

to express their own ideas, and to be able

to hear and communicate and understand the ideas

that other people make, so that they can communicate

their own stories.

And I'm really excited to see

where my students go in the years to come.

- [Narrator] It's a journey that holds much promise

for both student and teacher,

as Calvin continues to push the bounds, taking the harp

where it's never gone before, and taking us along

for the ride.

♪ Before I knew it, ♪

♪ I was little ♪

- I love getting to do what I love for a living,

and then expose people to the idea that anything's possible,

If you're willing to get messy with it,

and you might embarrass yourself,

but you just kinda pick yourself up and keep going for it,

you're right, you are the only one who can create

the story that you want.

(soft harp music)

- [Dalia] To hear more head to

Meet Sacramento ceramicist and educator Ruth Rippon.

Her style and technique helped transform the craft

of ceramics, into fine art in Northern California.

(soft music)

- My mother was very instrumental

in my becoming an artist.

I was either to be an artist or a stenographer,

if the artwork was not successful.

Well, it must have been exciting

for me 'cause I never gave it up.

That was just always a challenge,

and a pleasant one.

(soft music)

- I knew very little about Ruth

when I got started on this exhibition.

When I started looking at Ruth's body of work,

I was very surprised and impressed,

at the diversity and the technical expertise it takes

to produce such a wide variety of beautiful objects.

She did everything that you can do with clay, pretty much.

- I was always aware of the negative space

of the objects like a plate or a bottle,

as well as the positive space that you create,

when you attempt to design the surface of the piece.

I had not really touched much clay until I went

to the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

So when I was living in San Francisco,

I did a lot of walking, to school

and other places and North beach,

especially I had noticed women, two women sitting,

usually older women, well and down,

and just talking, being together.

And that, that inspired a whole series of works.

- I think some of her large stone

where female figures are incredibly beautifully done,

and they're not just technically beautifully done,

but there's obviously a great deal of warmth,

and feeling that has gone into those figures.

- I think the harmony in her work, stems from

the joy in Ruth herself.

So I think that leads to the harmony that you see

throughout her body of work.

Even though there's an incredible diversity,

Ruth is very much a storyteller in most of her work.

- Here's your fish.

- [Ruth] Yeah that's better.

Fish and water were important parts

of my designs.

Each one is individual.

I did a couple of political pieces.

I made a hand with a finger pointing, that I called You.

And I'm like, the army wants you.

I guess the sound of the mythical ones

were the most challenging, trying to express inner

like a round plate, I guess I start working,

and then one spatial part of the piece suggest another.

(soft music)

- It's very important for a museum

to carefully document, the work of the artists

that live in its region.

- Wow, it looks really good. (laughing)

- I would say that Ruth is greatly responsible

for the vibrant tradition of clay,

that we are lucky to have in Northern California.

She laid the groundwork for the greater appreciation

of clay as a fine art, especially in this region.

She started working at Sac State in 1956,

just about nine years after the school was established.

This was at a time when, at least in the United States clay

was still considered by most a craft.

It wasn't really associated with high art.

- Ruth who's, particularly is an educator,

not just a skilled artist, not someone who could

just teach her students physically how to do things,

but it was how to bring a commitment and joy to the process.

- The idea for this one I was taking a sunbath

in my backyard, just as a joy in the warm

I always thought of them as my children,

since I had none of my own, I thought that they

were my children, my students.

I taught what I was taught, and hope that

the message got to the students and showed up in their work,

not just like my work,

but creating their own style of working.

- Ruth's legacy as an educator and artist, set an example

for young artists to just to let them know

that they can do their own thing.

- I think quite honestly, every piece in the show she did

she did for herself.

She was the person she had to please.

And then there's always the hope that yeah somebody else

would be pleased too.

- But this was fun to do too, the carving,

I just wanted to express my own thoughts about things,

that meant something for me to make it.

And I was, I was glad it was appreciated enough

for someone to want to have it.

(soft music)

That's the way I feel (laughs) I have done enough.

And I'm old enough, and it's not easy work.

Clay is very dense, very hard, heavy

to work with, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

- [Dalia] For more information visit, story.

At the Columbus Museum of art in Ohio to an exhibition

of black artists and photographers, whose work focuses

on a wide range of familial relationships.

(soft music)

- So the inspiration for this exhibition comes from a book

that was published in 1955, it's called

"The Sweet Flypaper of Life".

(soft music)

So, you know, in this period

of the 1950s African American family life,

was not exactly something that was visible.

The photographs are by an artists and Roy DeCarava ,

and the text is by Langston Hughes.

(soft music)

It's almost like a fictitious family album,

and there was a really sort of beautiful relationship,

between, you know, what you're reading

and the images that surround it.

(soft music)

So this exhibition sort of begins with that book,

but it includes a number of contemporary artists

who are, you know, thinking

and sort of visualizing African American family life,

but also sort of pushing our notions of what a family is.

- You know, the show has, you know,

a lot of different sort of representations of family,

whether it's you know, immediate family, extended family,

and from my work, I really wanted to focus

on pictures of people who have been very very important,

in sort of development of my artistic practice

and myself as a person.

And for me, the really powerful thing about

the piece collectively is that, you see all

these young, intelligent black people who are

in their environments, and very much in their space,

and they sort of command your attention in a way.

And I think that's something very very powerful

and, you know, it's sort of set up in the way that,

they have a sense of radical presence to me,

that's really beautiful and powerful so.

(soft music)

- Deana Lawson is born in 1979,

and has become a really influential photographer.

This work pictures his 48 images

of the artist's cousin, Jasmine, visiting

her partner in Mohawk Correctional Facility,

with their children.

But what I think is really sustains this piece,

is the evidence, care and love and the sort

of bonds of family, that persist in this situation.

And they are, you know, despite that sort

of difficult circumstances, are really kind of beautiful

and touching in the age of a family.

(soft music)

It's important that people are able to come

to the museum and, recognize something of their own life,

and their own experience on the walls of the museum.

And it's equally important for people,

to recognize and experience difference.

- I think the most powerful thing about art is,

that you can enter into a museum or a gallery,

and after seeing a show, you can go back

into the world and actually see the world anew.

That's my ultimate, ultimate hope is to change the way that,

or influence the way that people see the world around them.

(soft music)

- [Dalia] For more at the Columbus Museum of Art,


- And that wraps it up for this edition of WEDU Arts Plus,

for more arts and culture


Until next time I'm Dalia colon.

Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation,

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU.

And by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

Giving humanity a Hand Since 1969.