Fusing art forms: Painting and storytelling unite

by Lenise Willis

When we’re told a story, our imagination runs wild. We picture the heroines and villains and make the tale our own. So when Winston-Salem painter Tammy Baldwin Willard heard storyteller Kali Ferguson’s tale of BlancaFlor at the Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival, she was moved to recreate her mental images in her own art form, inevitably creating something new and beautiful.

“Her presence—the way she told the story—it was just captivating,” Willard said about Ferguson’s performance in February. “Whenever Kali was telling the story of BlancaFlor, she created a heroine that just didn’t seem like she was waiting for a prince charming, and that resonated with me because I didn’t grow up with Katniss Everdeen and those types of (strong female) characters.”

Willard was moved to create a beautiful depiction of BlancaFlor herself, the strong black female sorceress, in pigeon form. The artwork is a mix of acrylic paint, alcohol ink, markers and vinyl film on canvas.

“I’m grateful she listened with her heart and took all that time to bring BlancaFlor to life and permanence,” Ferguson said. “Storytelling is an in-the-moment affair in its purest form so for this painting to live makes it more concrete.”

“I was floored by the painting,” Ferguson continued. “I love that she painted BlancaFlor in pigeon form, and I love that she added all that blue and purple. It gives the brown and grayness of the bird an aura of potential, of (creative, psychic and healing powers) which do come to pass in the story.

“Also, the dripping honors the water of the lake, muddy or not. It’s essential to life even if not the prettiest. I also loved the white flowers everywhere and actually how they’re beautiful but not fragile somehow. BlancaFlor’s strength is in her flowery, good magic.”

The creative inspiration and now collaboration between the two artists is a pleasant echo created by the fringe festival. Amy da Luz, co-founder of Paper Lantern Theatre Company, organized the free event with the goal of giving female artists a free platform to be heard, and to help nurture developing talent in the area. The festival was an immediate success and well received, but the ripples created since have traveled far beyond the two weekends of performances.

Both Ferguson and Willard mentioned how incredible it felt to not only make creative connections, but to feel a part of a supportive community of women.

“I feel like by now all the ‘Ruby sisters’ and I are a team bringing uplifting art to the Triad and beyond,” Ferguson said. “I hope Tammy and I can collaborate more by telling stories together in our different but connected expressions. She’s opened up some ideas I haven’t even told her about yet.”

Both art forms of BlancaFlor will come together this weekend during a collaborative show, “Stories and Visions: The Collective Works,” presented by Tammy Willard and hosted by Jenne Cogen at The Art of Massage.

On display will be Willard’s Action to Reaction series, which includes her paintings of “BlancaFlor,” “Devils in the Details” and “Baqash.” Ferguson will perform her fairy tale of BlancaFlor to accompany the painting. This will be Willard’s first solo art show.

“The pieces I’m working on right now, I’m calling ‘Action to Reaction’ because they’re reactionary pieces,” said Willard, who is also creating pieces based on news stories. “It’s about capturing what I think society is feeling.”

Willard plans on making at least one more piece inspired by the festival, which will visually manifest a quote from Niki Tulk’s interdisciplinary piece “Ophelia | Leaves.”

“This is the first time something so cool has happened to me,” added Ferguson about having a painter portray one of her stories. “It shows how art begets art and how our messages reach other creators, and for Tammy to be the one who painted it is especially significant because she gets art that makes a societal or political statement. She creates deeply complex communication about the world with her vision and works. So I know that she understands that BlancaFlor is more than just a fairy tale. It’s a fantastical statement about who I am as a brown, round woman.” !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.


“Stories and Visions: The Collective Works,” is Friday at The Art of Massage, 704 Brookstown Ave., Winston-Salem, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. For more information on the show or Willard’s paintings and prints visit or visit her studio at 625 N. Trade St.