As a child Juanita Richardson lived above a tavern in Baltimore, Maryland. She learned to hate the smell of beer, associating it with drunken brawls,
the acrid oder of urine and a life out of control. Her alcoholic uncle Henry Carson died when he steered his 1972 Cadillac into a bridge support.
During the same summer her father, a sign painter who had a weakness for gin, left with the family station wagon, never to be seen again.
Seeking a better life, her mother moved Juanita and her four siblings to Macon, Georgia, to live with relatives. While central Georgia was removed from the dangers of urban life, Juanita felt out of place in her new surroundings and embarrassed by her rural cousins. She was torn between the excitement of Baltimore and the stability of her new home.
Following her graduation from high school, Juanita moved to Atlanta where she took a job as a cake decorator at a Winn Dixie grocery store. It was here she began to think of herself as a visual artist.
Juanita first started painting beer bottles in 1985. As she claimed in an interview on WGCL, an Atlanta CBS affiliate, “I wanted to make something good come from something bad.” She mostly painted on returnable long neck bottles with the belief that turning them into art would mean they would no longer find a use as containers for alcohol.
Richardson painted a variety of subjects on bottles, including flowers, people, and animals. The Spelvins felt her boats were her strongest subject
because they referenced her childhood experience of watching ships in the Baltimore harbor. The folk art critic Arthur Blade has written that her “bottle
boats” represent a positive “re-imaging” of the African diaspora.
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