I remember seeing my first exhibition of works by Sapphire and Crystals 12 years ago at its spiritual home, the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC). Of course, the art was amazing, but I gravitated to the altar where the artists shared items that they ‘held in memory.’ There might be flowers, or photos, a saying, a candle, shells, things that honored their ancestors. Each held a story of importance and remembrance for the artists and that made the works on the wall even more compelling. I remember works by Candace Hunter, Joyce Owens and of course founder Marva Pitchford Jolly, a long time professor (tenured) at Chicago State University. I was pleased to meet her and now own a piece of her work that once belonged to former SSCAC Board member Sammy Dortch. Now that’s history.
Their most recent exhibition, Sapphire & Crystals: FORWARD, is at the Bridgeport Art Center, 4th Floor Gallery. The collective of African American women artists in Chicago, was initially conceived by Jolly and Felicia Grant Preston. The idea was for women artists of African descent to produce their own shows resulted in the collective’s first exhibition at the SSCAC in 1987. Throughout its thirty-five-year history, Sapphire and Crystals has held exhibitions at many galleries and art centers across the city.
The expanse of works in FORWARD — paintings, sculptures, ceramics, digital — exemplifies the diversity within the group and their continuing focus on race and gender. And yes the altar is impressive. The sculptures and ceramics by Shyvette Williams, Malika Jackson and Juarez Hawkins speak to the lasting influence of Jolly on the group. And with work from younger artists like Kiah Zellner-Smith we know that another three decades of Sapphire & Crystals is in our future, thank goodness for that.
Active Sapphire & Crystals members include Rose Blouin, Tianna Bracey, Dorothy Carter, Evelyn Davis, Makeba Kedem-DuBose, Kiah Zellner-Smith, Juarez Hawkins, Malika Jackson, Candace Hunter, Renee Williams Jefferson, Nicole Malcolm, Alkebuluan Merriweather, Yaoundé Olu, Alicia Piller, Felicia Grant Preston, Patricia Stewart, Dorian Sylvain, Shirley J. Sullivan, Dorian Sylvain, Arlene Turner-Crawford, Rhonda Wheatley, Shahar Caren Weaver, Shyvette Williams and Trish Williams.
Members over the years include Dorothy Carter, Joanne Scott, Malika Jackson, Trish Williams, Cheryl Toles, Nicole Malcolm, Janet Sheard, Stephanie Bird, Lillian Morgan-Lewis, Carol James, Akosua Bandele, Evelyn Davis-Frazier, Younde Olu, Simone Bouyer, Faith Davis, Debra Dilworth, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Monica Plott Ratcliff, Annie Lee, Dorothy Perry, Beverly Warner, and Patricia Bohannon.