designing for community: how a street piano might re-interpret history of blackface

It took me a good three weeks to map out the story this piano would tell onto its many faces

It would be delicate vibrant and a show piece, much like Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag
Hopefully a show stopper, like Josephine

Design concepts: 1. piano preservation 2. alternative histories 3. color 4. Art Deco 5. portraiture 6. nakedness 7. Joplin meets Josephine

1. piano preservation 

2. alternative histories: Ragtime Battles Blackface 

3. Colors

524494_708160022532288_1268928129_nIt all started with the red of Joplin’s Maple leaf rag and the yellow of Jo’s banana skirt. And then I filled it in with splashes of every hot color found in nature in between 😉 it’s a piano featuring the richness of Nature and the lux in Jo’s scanty costumes. Mostly the colors that compliment the beautiful browns of dark skins 😉

4. Art Deco

The stainglass was the sky blue that throws all the hot colors in relief – that familiar crisp autumn sky. Also, a nod to the beaux artes of the arts and crafts movement framing the art deco era. You know, Jo came to Paris in the same year that a giant exhibition there coined the term “Art deco” ?

5. Portraits

1185931_709678305713793_1838021033_nI wanted to make portraits much in the style of colored photographs… daguerreotypes.. of the time. With the fiery hot orange glass as a backdrop.

6. “I wasn’t really naked. I simply didn’t have any clothes on.” – Josephine Baker

So I kept her without any clothes on. She reinvented the way the black female body can be viewed. And against all odds, she was on burlesque stages presenting a desexualized nymph-like angly dark body with comedic faces on stage – ha!

7. Joplin meets Jo

And I wanted so desparately for them to meet. They were never professional contemporaries. Jo was just getting her start when Joplin passed. But I’m fairly sure Jo was tickled dancing to his music. She would have been a big fan. Need to do more research.



This is the fun of this sort of project, no? You can research. You can interpret. If I can get one youth to look them up or be inspired to explore another history they are curious about for a paper, I’d be happy 😉