Like many others who have posted on “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”, I also really enjoyed these excerpts. I noticed, particularly in “A Room of One’s Own”, that there is a space missing for black women, and that this missing space in this one particular essay is indicative of a space I believe exists in many spheres for black women. As I was reading these excerpts, I found myself struggling to name black female artists beyond Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. I doubt that this is due to neglect on my part so much as a lack of a ‘room’ for black women to create in, so to speak. What I found really interesting about Alice Walker’s introduction and title is the notion of a garden instead of a room, and I’d like to explore the difference between the two.
Walker describes a beautiful quilt in the Smithsonian Institute, writing that it is “made of bits and pieces of worthless rags”, but is nonetheless “the work of a person of powerful imagination and deep spiritual feeling” (239). It is not credited or named the way most works probably are at the Smithsonian; it is instead noted that it was made by “an anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago” (239). Walker concludes that the artist left this tangible evidence of creative spirit with the only materials available to her and in the only medium she would have been allowed a hundred years ago. Despite these limitations, the genius shines through; the limited resources with which to create both stifle and demonstrate the artist’s potential.
Walker’s mother, a black woman, released her creativity in a similar fashion by transforming her social sphere into a place of creation and art. She planted “ambitious gardens” full of “over fifty different varieties of plants” (241). Walker describes her mother watering her flowers and laying out new beds early in the morning, and returning home from the fields to dig, uproot and replant roses, and prune branches until nightfall. Anything her mother touched would grow beautifully, and was praised by anyone who came to the yard. Walker describes her mother with a kind of religious reverence: “I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible- except as Creator: hand and eye…. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty” (241). Her mother takes on the role of a God in this creation; the garden is not only a place of art, but also a universe. Much like God forming mankind in his image, she forms the garden in the image of what she believes to be beautiful. She fed her creative spirit in a garden, and not a room- the implications of nature, growth, and fertility are obvious (it occurred to me to reference the Garden of Eden, but I’ll save that for another discussion). I’m not sure I have a clear idea of what I believe to be the difference between the garden and the room after these short excerpts, but I thought it might be interesting to look at the different spaces as they are described by Walker and Woolf, particularly in light of the religious devotion Walker grants to her mother and the limited resources of black women.