The visual artist Cheryl Derricotte was recently invited for a micro-residency at Villa San Francisco. Her presence was part of the “Hatch Series” curated by Candace Huey (Galerie Re.Riddle) to support the local art scene during the pandemic.
From her own words, Cheryl finds her inspiration by observing “current events, politics, urban landscapes. Identities shaped by home or homelessness; natural beauty or disasters, memories of happiness or loss inspire my artwork”.
Even though her main media are glass and paper, she highlights that “Text is an important component of my artwork. I often say that I live under the tyranny of title. A phrase will get stuck in my head, and I wrestle with it until an artwork is created”.
Right in the middle of the “Black lives matter” movement, she decided to leverage her stay at Villa San Francisco to pursue her work about Thomas Jefferson, and “his contradictory positions on slavery and freedom”.
She gives more details about her creative process: “The most famous French Ambassador in US History was Thomas Jefferson. He served in France for 5 years as the “American Minister to the Court of Versailles.” Jefferson was a firm supporter of the French Revolution and upon his return to the US, when he was appointed Secretary of State by President Adams. He would go on to be Vice President and later, the third President of the United States.
Jefferson’s affection for revolution was not extended to Black people. He was born into a slave-holding family, thus inheriting his own slaves and later, slaves from his deceased wife that she brought into the marriage. Over the course of his life, he owned 600 people. In a typical year, he owned 200 people, ½ of them under the age of 16”.
This work is referencing Thomas Jefferson’s often quoted commentary on the peculiar institution of slavery: “But as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” (Jefferson discussing the Missouri question and slavery to John Holmes April 22, 1820. Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 12. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905, p. 159.)
And the work of Cheryl Derricotte becomes even more compelling when she provides some striking details: “My mother’s maiden name was Jefferson and my maternal side of the family came from Virginia. We always wondered if we came from Monticello, Jefferson’s primary plantation.
He often said that slavery needed to end but did not take its dissolution on at a federal level. He believed in individual plantation reform and at Monticello, he moved away from tobacco and did not seek out cotton. Rather, he planted wheat and trained many of his slaves as skilled laborers to build out his property and neighboring shops.
Jefferson’s slave, Sally Hemings’ was the mother of six of his children, and her older brother James was trained as a French Chef in Paris and served as Chef de Cuisine at Monticello. And, although Jefferson freed James and Sally Hemings’ living children as agreed with both of them, he never freed Sally Hemmings”.
Cheryll Derricotte will expose the outcome of her work at Villa San Francisco at the French Consulate of San Francisco at a further date.
A few “snapshots” of Cheryl Derricotte
How do you envision your art post-COVID?
“I hope that one day we will be able to hang the Hatch series show in the French Consulate, as that was the original plan before COVID-19. I am excited to return to shows with people and be able to discuss artwork in-person. This will be the best part of a post-pandemic world”.
What’s special about the residence’s physical space?
“The Redwood trees outside the windows were amazing! So tall and stately, they reminded me that nature endures. We could learn a lot from those trees if we tune in, listen, and study their example“.
How are you connected to France?
“I did not grow up with a lot of money, but my mother likes to play games and she was very lucky. One day, she entered a call-in radio contest to win tickets anywhere in the world. When it turned out she was the correct number caller, the DJ asked her where she wanted to go. She replied, “My kid is taking French, so Paris.” My mother won this contest and at 15, I took my first trip to Paris! The trip included R/T tickets for two, 10-days in a classic French hotel and a coupon book we could use for meals. It was a dream come true. Visiting Paris as a young teenager not only captured my imagination, it fueled my growing love of art and the built environment”.
Top of your mind, who is your favorite artist right now?
“Rodney Ewing https://www.rodneyewing.com (Also in the Hatch Series show) Rodney makes incredible works with text and image. He is a master printmaker and evolving into a wonderful installation artist”.
Where can we see your work and follow you?
My website: www.CherylDerricotteStudio.com
Vessel Gallery: https://www.vessel-gallery.com/art-is-essential
SFMoma Artists Gallery: https://www.sfmoma.org/artists-gallery/
Framed Gallery: https://www.framedgallery.net
Villa San Francisco was made possible by the collaboration of the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France in the United States, the Institut de France, the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, and the French American Cultural Society (FACS) but also supported by local partners such as UC Berkeley, and generous donors.