Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Tanya Scruggs Ford

Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Tanya Scruggs Ford. Tanya has been a part of the Sweet Water community since 2018 and recently joined the SWF team as a Human-In-Residence to support Sweet Water Academy’s Summer Urban Ecology Apprenticeship Program. She is a local artist who makes unique and beautiful pieces of jewelry out of reclaimed wood. Tanya is also an educator and a mentor who brings her creativity, imagination, and sense of wonder to The Commons. Read on to learn more about Tanya.

Can you tell us about your background? 

I am Hyde Park resident, raised on the South side of Chicago; born to parents of Jamaican (father) and African American (mother) descent. 

I have a background in Fashion Design & Accessories from the International Academy of Design and Technology & a Bachelor Degree in Applied Behavioral Science from National Louis University. I am an abstract visual artist, educator, and the Creator and Accessory Designer of Kingston James & Company.

Can you tell us about being an artist and how you became an artist?

There were many influences that lead to me being an artist.  I grew up in a creative environment- my grandfather was a tailor in the United States Military and his father; a mason.  My mother, an electrician and a seamstress is her spare time and my father, a carpenter/painter. 

By the age of six, I was a tinkerer and an artist in the making. I found myself deconstructing random materials and objects from around the house.  Only to reconstruct, this abstract of mess; I laugh.

To foster my imagination and creativity,  I was enrolled in various creative programs. Later on, I was introduced to drawing, sewing, and tap dance through camp at the local park district.  This introduction was the foundation that fueled my creativity which led to the exploration of more art related programs.

In art, I found a place for my imagination to be abstract, bold, colorful, and expressive. In this moment of awareness, I existed as an artist. I later pursued professional training in fashion design & accessories and began to make garments, designed oversized burlap tote-bags and later; silk scarves that were hand dyed and painted.

Currently, I am an educator, artist, and accessory designer.  My artwork and jewelry combines reclaim wood infused with experimental concepts and fluid designs, that suspends color into negative space.  I enjoy creating space and distance through the process of multi-layered mediums, which is balanced and harmonious. 

My influences are architecture, space, nature, geometric shapes, texture, color.  

How did you find Sweet Water Foundation? 

Jia Lok Pratt, SWF’s Chief Operating Officer, and Emmanuel Pratt, SWF’s Executive Director visited my booth at an art fair in Hyde Park, Chicago back in 2018. I displayed necklaces crafted from Jenga blocks which impressed the Pratts. Soon after, Emmanuel offered SWF as a potential resource and suggested I visit The Commons for a tour. 

When I showed up for a tour, I approached this urban landscape and felt lost and displaced. I knew the landscape of SWF from 20 years ago and was astonished at the transformation. I almost didn’t believe I was in the right place! I verified I was in the correct location and four hours later; I was a committed volunteer. Now, I am a Human-in-Residence.

What is your role at Sweet Water Foundation?

I am a Human-In-Residence at Sweet Water Foundation. As a Human-in-Residence, my role is to add an artistic footprint that addresses the agenda of people of color and their communities. I have provided multiple workshops at The Commons for the SWF core team and surrounding community. I also participated in Sweet Water Academy’s 2019 summer programming as a mentor for young people who were engaged as Urban Ecology Apprentices. 

I've done a lot of things in my life, but I can say that being at Sweet Water is one of the things that is the most gratifying. I have a direct impact on individuals who I don't even know. Even just sitting at the weekly Farmer’s Market and talking with the people who come to get produce. I’m connecting with them, and in a sense, reconnecting with myself. It's easy to be a consumer and to take and to take. But it's also good to give. And that's what Sweet Water does - they give.

If you could describe Sweet Water in one word, what would it be? 

Magical - Sweet Water is the most magical place on Earth. There is no other foundation that organically  transforms lives, neighborhoods, and communities. SWF is a human-ecosystem that fosters and invests in ideas, promotes exploration, experiments, creates, and acts.

Courtney Hug