Barbara Chase-Riboud

Barbara Chase-Riboud 1966 

Barbara Chase, 1966; (courtesy the American Federation of Arts records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Barbara Chase-Riboud (born June 26, 1939) is both an internationally acclaimed visual artist and award-winning African American sculptor and poet.   Chase-Riboud attained international recognition with the publication of her first novel, “Sally Hemings”, in 1979.  The novel has been described as the "first full blown imagining" of Sally Hemings' life as a slave and her relationship with Thomas Jefferson.  In addition to stimulating considerable controversy, the book earned Chase-Riboud the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best novel written by an American woman and sold more than one million copies in hardcover.  She has received numerous honors for her work, including the Carl Sandburg Prize for poetry and the Women's Caucus for Art's lifetime achievement award.  In 1965, she became the first American woman to visit the People's Republic of China after the revolution.  In 1996, she was honored by the French Government and received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

She will be the subject of a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2013, and two anthologies of her poetry.  She divides her time between Paris, Rome, and New York.

Barbara Chase Riboud Sculpture 

Barbara Chase Riboud Sculpture

Chase-Riboud was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only child of Vivian May Chase, a histology technician and Charles Edward Chase, a contractor.  Chase-Riboud displayed an early talent for the arts and began attending the Fleisher Art Memorial School at the age of 8. She continued her training at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art.  At 15, she won an award for one of her prints, which was subsequently purchased by the Museum of Modern Art.  Chase-Riboud went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Tyler School at Temple University in 1957.

In that same year, she won a John Hay Whitney fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome for 12 months.  There, she created her first bronze sculptures and exhibited her work.  During this time, she traveled to Egypt, where she discovered non-European art.  In 1960, Chase-Riboud completed a master's degree from Yale University School of Design and Architecture.

After completing her studies, Chase-Riboud moved to Paris.  In Paris, She met the Magnum photographer Marc Riboud, whom she married in 1961. The couple had two sons and traveled extensively in Russia, India, Greece and North Africa.  In 1981, Chase-Riboud married her second husband, art publisher and expert Sergio Tosi.

Chase-Riboud began to garner broad attention from her artistic work in the latter half of the 1960s.  Nancy Heller describes her work as "startling, ten-foot-tall sculptures that combine powerful cast-bronze abstract shapes with veils of fiber ropes made from silk and wool".

Sally Hemings controversy

While Chase-Riboud first established her reputation as a sculptor, she gained widespread attention and critical acclaim for her writing with the publication of her first novel “Sally Hemings” (1979).  Chase-Riboud, as well as the historians Winthrop Jordan and Fawn M. Brodie, maintained that Jefferson fathered six children with Hemings, nearly 30 years younger than Jefferson and the half-sister of his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by her father John Wayles.  Chase-Riboud's book became an international bestseller.  She had fully imagined the interior life of Sally Hemings, and many people accepted her portrayal of a relationship with Jefferson.

 Barbara Chase-Riboud - Sally Hemmings

Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sally Hemmings

In 1998, after almost 20 years of controversy with the Jefferson family, a DNA study reported in the scientific journal Nature showed a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Eston Hemings, one of Sally's sons.  It showed there was no connection to the Carr line, long proposed by Jefferson descendants as the father(s) of Hemings' children. (The DNA study also showed that Thomas Woodson was not a descendant of the Jefferson male line, in spite of that family’s strong oral tradition of descent from Jefferson.)

In 2000 and 2001 the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at Monticello, and the National Genealogical Society announced their conclusions that Jefferson had fathered Hemings' children.  Most historians accept this consensus, which has been reflected in academic writing about Jefferson and his times since then.  Chase-Riboud is therefore the catalyst in changing Jeffersonian scholarship forever.

Barbara Chase-Riboud  

Barbara Chase-Riboud

In 1991, Chase-Riboud won an important copyright decision, Granville Burgess vs. Chase-Riboud.  Judge Robert F. Kelly concluded that while "laws were not enacted to inhibit creativity . . . it is one thing to inhibit creativity and another to use the idea-versus-expression distinction as something akin to an absolute defense - to maintain that the protection of copyright law is negated by any small amount of tinkering with another writer's idea that results in a different expression."  The ruling was a significant victory for artists and writers, reinforcing protection for creative ideas even when expressed in a slightly different form.

Chase-Riboud continued her literary exploration into slavery with her second and third novels.  “Valide: A Novel of the Harem” (1986) examined slavery in the Ottoman empire. Her “Echo of Lions” (1989) was one of the first serious novels about the Amistad slave-ship revolt.  In 1997, Chase-Riboud settled a suit against Dreamworks for $10 million on charges of copyright infringement.  The author claimed that the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's film Amistad plagiarized her novel.  While Chase-Riboud eventually withdrew her charges, Dreamworks countersued by demonstrating that Chase-Riboud had plagiarized from William Owens's 1954 novel “Slave Mutiny”, reissued in the 1990s under the title “Black Mutiny”. The suit was highly published and the terms were undisclosed.

Her Novels

Selected Poetry

 Selected Sculptures include

  • Confession for Myself(1973)
  • Malcolm X(1970)
  • Cleopatra's Cape(1973)
  • Africa Rising(1998)
  • "Mao's Organ" (2008)

Her honors include




  • Women Artists: An Illustrated History. Nancy Heller, 1987. (Cross River Press)
  • ART: African American. Samella Lewis, 1990. (Hancraft Press)
  • History of Art. H.W. Janson, 1995. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)
  • Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists. Lisa E. Farrington, 2004. (Oxford University Press)
  • "People", International Herald Tribune, March 23, 1996
  • Smith, Jessie C. 1991. "Barbara Chase Riboud." inNotable Black American Women,p. 177.(Gale Cengage)
  • Smith, Jessie C. 1991. "Barbara Chase Riboud," inNotable Black American Women,p. 178.(Gale Cengage)
  • Heller, Nancy G. (1987).Women Artists: An Illustrated History,P. 191. (Cross River Press)
  • Cohen, Roger. "Judge Says Copyright Covers Writer's Ideas of a Jefferson Affair,"New York Times,August 15, 1991.
  • Weinraub, Bernard. "Filmmakers Of 'Amistad' Rebut Claim By Novelist",New York Times,December 4, 1997
  • Weinraub, Bernard. "Plagiarism Suit Over 'Amistad' Is Withdrawn",New York Times,February 20, 1998.
  • "People",International Herald Tribune,23 March 1996
  • Barbara Chase-Riboud: Sculptor. Peter Selz & A. Janson, 1999 (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)ISBN 978-0-8109-4107-6
  • Notable Black American Women. Jessie Carnie Smith, 1991 (Gale Cengage)ISBN 978-0-8103-4749-6
  • Wikipedia
  • "Barbara Chase-Riboud".African American Literature Book Club., LLC. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  • "Barbara Chase-Riboud".Voices from the Gap: Women Artists and Writers of Color. The University of Minnesota. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  • Foster, EA; Jobling MA, Taylor PG, Donnelly P, de Knijff P, Mieremet R, Zerjal T, Tyler-Smith C (1998). "Jefferson fathered slave’s last child,"Nature396 (6706): 27–28.doi:10.1038/23835.PMID 9817200. 
  • "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account", Monticello Website, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, accessed 22 June 2011. Quote: "Ten years later [referring to its 2000 report], TJF and most historians now believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings."Helen F. M. Leary,National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, pp. 207, 214 - 218 Quote: Leary concluded that "the chain of evidence securely fastens Sally Hemings' children to their father, Thomas Jefferson."
  • "The second Amistad case: 'Outright Plagiarism' or 'Who Owns History?' Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks, Inc., 1998".The Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 2008-02-27.

Welcome to Ealy Mays Artworks

Celebration of over 150 years of Black Literary and Artistic development in Paris

Here you will find the works of one of the most prolific African American artists. Based in Paris, France, this selection includes current masterpieces as well retrospectives from a body of over 30 years as an ethnic artist painting in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Your choice of paintings, prints, posters, postcards, puzzles, memorabilia, T-shirts, collectibles, accessories,and more, is only a click away. Read more

It is the spectator and not life, that really mirrors art”  The Picture of Dorian Gray …Oscar Wilde

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