Graphite, Charcoal, and Ink on Paper
Tribute to the phenomenal Maya Angelou. This piece is full of symbolism and subtle references to her life. The caged bird on the right arguably being the most well known reference her novel: I Know why the Caged Bird Sings. The cards on the left reference the date of passing (May 28, 2014) with a pen lying on top for her dedication to written word until her end. Glass and crumbled pad paper on the left referencing her writing process:
I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty. To write, I lie across the bed, so that this elbow is absolutely encrusted at the end, just so rough with callouses. I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner—proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning. Sometimes in hotels I’ll go into the room and there’ll be a note on the floor which says, Dear Miss Angelou, let us change the sheets. We think they are moldy. But I only allow them to come in and empty wastebaskets. I insist that all things are taken off the walls. I don’t want anything in there. I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing. I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember. I’ll read something, maybe the Psalms, maybe, again, something from Mr. Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson. And I’ll remember how beautiful, how pliable the language is, how it will lend itself. If you pull it, it says, OK.” I remember that and I start to write.
Each flower has its own meaning as well:
The dahlia on the left (to the right of the glass) symbolizes dignity referencing her quote on dignity:
Dignity—the word itself—has come to mean different things to different people, as many words do. It doesn’t just mean always being stiff and composed. It means a belief in oneself, that one is worthy of the best. Dignity means that what I have to say is important, and I will say it when it’s important for me to say it. Dignity really means that I deserve the best treatment I can receive. And that I have the responsibility to give the best treatment I can to other people.
Lily of the valley on the far left within the wine glass symbolizes Return of Happiness. Maya suffered horrific abuse at the tender age of 8 by her mother’s boyfriend as a result she becomes a recluse and select mute. Mrs. Bertha Flowers coaxed Maya from this state by reintroducing happiness through books and communication.
Dancing Orchids to the right of the dahlia symbolizes Refined Beauty. This reference is two-fold: the dancing orchids are in reference to her years as Miss Calypso, and the immense beauty of her spirit trumping her age.
Finally, the liatris (in front of the caged bird) symbolizes I will Try Again. Dr. Angelou persevered through hardship after hardship. Yes, she fell, but she never failed to get back up. That perseverance transformed her into one of the most beloved writers in American history.