Today, Quakers are known to be actively involved in the creative and performing arts community; they are artists, actors, musicians, and lend their meetinghouses for art shows and performances.
It wasn’t always like this–George Fox (whose powerful vocal ministry sparked the Quaker faith in 1652) was against ornamentation in religion and viewed it as a distraction. Theater, dance, and musical performances were seen as leading Friends away from an investment in faith and virtuous reflection.
Over the years, that reality has evolved. Among many respected artists, Quaker artists have made a pronounced impact in their fields with their artistic abilities.
Here are four Quaker artists–all of them female–whose works have spoken volumes:
Dame Judi Dench, is an Academy Award-winning English actress, author, and artist who received an Oscar for her high-impact role as the aging, provocative and ever-astute, Queen Elizabeth in ‘Shakespeare in Love.’ 20 years of work at the Royal Shakespeare Theater firmly established her on the British stage. Many took delight in her take on James Bond (a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War”) when she performed as “M,” the head of the British Secret Service, in Bond films from 1995-2012. Always ready to tackle new challenges, Judi, who never thought of herself as a singer, took on her first musical role as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in 1958. She was so anxious about her singing voice during the vocal audition, she auditioned from the wings, and not in front of the orchestra.
Judi was born in North Yorkshire in 1934. Her father was a doctor who also served as the resident doctor for the York Theater Royal. She attended the all-girls Quaker School, The Mount School in York, where she embraced Quakerism and became a life-long Friend. In a BBC interview on March 21, 2013, she spoke about her faith, “It informs everything I do. I couldn’t be without it.”
Bonnie Raitt is an American blues singer, guitarist, songwriter, and activist. Her 1989 album, Nick of Time, helped her gain mainstream recognition and opened the door to many Grammy awards since.
Featured in Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” Bonnie was born in California in 1949. Her father was the Broadway musical star, John Raitt, and her mother was the pianist, Marjorie Haydock.
Bonnie reports being raised in a Quaker household, and the values and testimonies of the Quaker faith took root.
In a 2017 Rolling Stone’s interview, she shared, “Growing up, we worked hard to figure out what we could do to give back and to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts around the world. A lot of my values come from that.”
Sandra Boynton is an American humorist, songwriter, director, music producer, children’s author, and illustrator who has received accolades for the range and diversity of her talent. Her children’s books have been around since the late 70s and are known for their simplicity and hand-drawn animal illustrations. Her album, Philadelphia Chicken, gained her a Grammy nomination.
In 1953, Sandra was born in the town of Orange, New Jersey. She grew up in Philadelphia with three sisters and attended Germantown Friends School from Kindergarten through grade 12. Her father was a progressive educator who served as head of GFS’s Upper School and went on to become the founder of Boynton/Cook Publishers. Her family became Quaker with she was just two years old.
In an interview with The Harvard Gazette, she described her Quaker upbringing, “It can’t really be quantified. It’s just how I grew up. The things that I think of being at the heart of Quaker education are non-violence, and a sincere valuing of the individual. I hope these are also at the center of the upbeat and kind of offbeat work I do. I’m certainly grateful — beyond grateful — for the school I went to, and for the wonderful family I grew up in.”
Visit her website: https://www.sandraboynton.com/sboynton/index.html
And let us add here that our own Signe Wilkinson (Chestnut Hill Meeting) is the only non-male Pulitzer Prize winning Editorial Cartoonist of our time.
We wrote a story on her newest book, “Herstory,” in honor of the 19th amendment on March 9th. You can see her work daily in the Inquirer.
If you more to smile about, visit Signe’s website to find her work. You won’t be disappointed.
Quakers and Art over time
The embrace of art within the Quaker community was no sure thing in 1652, but people will always seek out poetry, music, theater, and art, and the artistic impulse cannot be stopped. Artist Gary Sandman has assembled a fascinating “history of Quaker art” that ties together the poetry of Margaret Fell, Annie Oakley’s gun-slinging showmanship, and Paul Cuffe’s shipbuilding. You can read it here: http://garysandmanartist.com/a-quaker-artists-excerpt/