Few musical styles are as colorful as jazz, and artist Prince Duncan-Williams knows this. Composed of silk as smooth as the music of John Coltrane and with an explosive vivacity of colorful silk threads that bring to mind the frenzied syncopation of New Orleans-style jazz, Prince’s silk mosaics succeed in creating something of a miracle: jazz without sound. He was born in Ghana in West Africa into a family tradition of working with silk thread art that was nearly four generations in the making. These silk threads are the same threads that are used to make Royal Kente, the cloth famously used for royal clothing for the Akan people.
In 1982, Prince moved to the United States to continue his studies in architectural drafting. By 1996, he had drifted away from architectural drafting and, intrigued by his cousin’s work with silk mosaic art, he began his own preparative training in silk mosaics, integrating the intensive silk mosaic art with his lifelong sketches. Three years later, Prince had developed and perfected this art, which had been carried down from generation to generation, to create breathtaking large-scale masterpieces. Prince has developed a style that merged both African and American/European traditions, much like jazz itself, ranging from abstract and spare beauty of “The Spirit” to the whimsical fun of “Disney Jazz Club” and “Disney Jazz Band”. Much like the brass instruments that swing at a Chicago jazz club, Prince’s works of art reflect the surrounding light with an energy that intensifies as you move. Like the flashy clothes of dancers at a packed speakeasy, his choices of silk shine brightly amid an ecstasy of fractured color with an effect reminiscent of light through stained glass or a lavish kaleidoscope. Much like the improvisational nature of the best jazz, Duncan-Williams’ works starts with a thin, penciled outline on a special board from which the rest of the composition evolves. From there, Prince carefully spreads glue all over the board and carefully hand-lays the rows of thread which work around a spiral and, every so often, change directions, creating facets, patterns and depth. These contrasting flows of colorful thread enhance the texture and mood of each dazzling image, creating a truly unique art form unto itself.
Viewing his art, it becomes clear that Prince is a first-rate soloist. Despite often stirring complexity of his hand-made compositions, never once does he use a stitch, and depending on the size, a single mosaic can require between 30 and 320 hours of meticulous labor. Today, the art of Prince Duncan-Williams has been exhibited throughout the United States, most notably in the Smithsonian Craft Show at the opulent National Building Museum.