Anna's Blog

The Anna Dunwell Interview

The dogs have meal time run of the kitchen, but spend most of their time in metal crates which Anna terms condos with their names on them. Next to their home a three story tree where Sebastian and Viola, rescue cats loll about on when not staring down at Anna microwaving cups of coffee in the kitchen. After a noisy welcome and smelling the new visitor the animals calm down. As we sit in the living room with an overpowering fixture being a huge portrait of the back of a woman weaving butterfly into a tall loom. It's entitled Dreamweaver and is by Nefertiti.

ANNA DUNWELL

I used to love parties and my husband at the time Steve Dunwell and I lived in a warehouse in Bay Village and Nicolai Goodman her husband who I worked with at Ginn & Company introduced me to Nefertiti at one of our social events. Nefertiti and I started communicating, which we continue to do to this day. Nefertiti is a great artist. One day I got a call that she was showing her work in my neighborhood, and I couldn't resist. Not only is she an extraordinarily talented painter, printmaker and designer, but she's a specialist and a connoisseur of beauty that is not only visual, but spiritual, philosophic and primally resonant. I am daily inspired by her work. I remember by that time I was living in Newton the first suburb west of Boston and dating a prominent Black doctor who couldn't believe that I'd bought a house and the first thing I bought was a plant and a giant print instead of furniture. Obviously that relationship was short lived.

INTERVIEWER

What drew you to her work?

ANNA DUNWELL

Despite all I'd been through in my life I was still a dreamer. I think my experience as Assistant Curator at Columbia University where I worked on cataloging the Sackler Collection below ground nourished my appreciation and love of ancient art, where I handled jewelry from the Sassanian Empire, and ancient Peruvian textiles. I'd also become accustomed through my training - I studied with Leo Steinberg and Rudolf Wittkower at Hunter and Columbia. And at Columbia there were Tang dynasty horses in the lobby of Low Library that I passed every day. My experience put me in touch with the timelessness of existence, so when I saw Nefertiti's work I knew I was seeing art that was exceedingly fine, and what was even more amazing for me was that the subject was a weaver who was weaving and transforming worlds. I was used to experiencing work of an exceeding high caliber, so I knew greatness when I saw it.

INTERVIEWER

Weren't you trained as a weaver?

Anna Dunwell

Yes, I did some independent study at The Rhode Island School of Design, but I had to leave.

INTERVIEWER

Why did you leave?

ANNA DUNWELL

I got a full scholarship, but when I showed up and was black and as they put it, had less chance to pay back than a white man backed out of it. But I'd heard that Dr. Martin Luther King's papers were at Boston University, so I applied, got in there, and continued to study textiles.

INTERVIEWER

That's horrible.

ANNA DUNWELL

Yes it was, but it was in Rhode Island that I first decided to write. Though I was barely out of my twenties so many horrible things had already happened to me that I wanted to make a manual for black girls to show them what was ahead, for even then I knew that more challenges were ahead, just because I was black. So in one way that experience helped create Paradise Lies: A Modern Slave Narrative.

TO BE CONTINUED