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Barbara Chase-Riboud

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-04-01T12:00:00-04:00 in Archives, Black Artists | 0 Comments

Barbara Chase-Riboud is an African American multimedia sculptor and author of historical fiction and poetry. Born in Philadelphia on June 26, 1939, she played piano, danced ballet, sculpted, and wrote poetry as a child. She began classes at the Fleisher Art Memorial at the age of seven and won her first sculpture prize at the age of eight for a small Grecian-style vase. Chase-Riboud earned a BFA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture in 1956. That year she was also the first African American woman awarded the Mademoiselle magazine guest-editorship, and she received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome. She went on to study design and architecture at the Yale School of Art, where she earned an MFA in 1960. After graduate school, she moved to London, where she resided for eight years, and a visit to Paris during that time was such a dynamic experience that she maintains a home there to this day. In fact, she currently alternates homes between Paris, Rome, and Capri.[1] 

Chase-Riboud launched her career as a professional sculptor in Paris. Her work has been inspired in part by art she saw during a trip to Egypt—her first exposure to non-Western art—as well as by the US Civil Rights movement and the dancing masks of various African countries. A visit to China in 1965 moved her to write twelve poems about that country. Together these experiences prompted the artist to begin making nonrepresentational sculptures with various metals, such as bronze and steel, and natural fibers including silk, wool, and hemp. She went on to settle in Paris to launch her career as a professional sculptor, and has exhibited in and visited several countries in Africa, including Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Morocco.[2]

The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired Chase-Riboud’s woodcut Reba sculpture for its permanent collection in 1954 when she was fifteen.[3] Her first solo exhibition—four sculptures to commemorate Malcolm X—was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Hayden Gallery (now the List Visual Arts Center) in Boston in 1970.[4 Her first professional publication was a book of poetry edited by Toni Morrison. She was also the first African American woman with a solo exhibition of her drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1999.[5] 


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Drew, Bernard A. 2007. 100 Most Popular African American Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


Kort, Carol, and Liz Sonneborn. 2002. A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts. New York: Facts on File. 


Macklin, A. D. 2000. A Biographical History of African-American Artists, A–Z. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.


Munro, Eleanor C. 1982. Originals: American Women Artists. New York: Simon and Schuster. 


Selz, Peter, and Anthony F. Janson. 1999. Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sculptor. New York: Harry N. Abrams.




[1] Drew 2007; Kort and Sonneborn 2002; Macklin 2000; Munro 1982; Selz and Janson 1999.

[2] Drew 2007; Kort and Sonneborn 2002; Macklin 2000; Munro 1982; Selz and Janson 1999.

[3] Selz and Janson 1999.

[4] Kort and Sonneborn 2002.

[5] Drew 2007; Munro 1982.


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