History

Rocklin woman collected thousands of black history memorabilia to display in her home

The entryway to Gloria “Punkin” Foster’s Rocklin home is lined with foliage. The second guests pass through her entryway, they are greeted by a hallway filled with carved wooden sculptures holding plants and an ornate red tapestry depicting African workers in a field.

It’s just a taste of what’s to come. Foster, 74, has dedicated more than 50 years of her life to collecting pieces of black Americana to display in her home. To date, Foster estimates she has thousands of black Americana memorabilia and home decor items.

Pieces of Foster’s collection fill every nook and cranny of her home. Her kitchen is filled with minstrel figurines nestled between pots and pans, holding watermelon slices and silently smiling as they perch on the white tile. A hand-painted watermelon clock – one of hundreds of clocks in her home – ticks away in the kitchen corner.

Foster says some of her guests ask why she chooses to present images that carry negative stereotypes.

“A lot of the black Americana was negative images,” Foster said. “Well that’s our history, you know, it’s what happened in the United States and kinda still happening. I like to look at it as showing the history of how we still are in our country.”

The wall that separates her breakfast nook from the kitchen is covered floor-to-ceiling in Wheaties boxes. The cereal boxes all feature historic black athletes like Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron and Stephen Curry. A photo of Foster and her sister adorns a special Wheaties box, custom ordered to be displayed in the wall.

To the left of the kitchen is a movie and music room, with wallpaper depicting films with black stars that Foster said she crafted by cutting and pasting movie posters to film reel wallpaper. Three-foot-tall sculptures of black musicians flank the sides of a grand piano.

Every room in Foster’s home has a theme – jungle, cowboy, music and film, to name a few – and each decoration is carefully procured from different thrift stores and antique shows from travels across the country.

Foster said she got started collecting during the late ’60s as a way to make sure her family felt represented by the imagery they grew up with.

“When I got married and I had my daughter, I wanted to make sure there were black images in our house, because when I grew up, it was rare to see a black person on TV and it was rare to see a black person in a commercial or, or anything,” Foster said. “I wanted to make sure my daughter had a positive image of her heritage.”

Over time, the process of learning the history behind the pieces has become what Foster said she looks forward to.

“When I was growing up the only black history in our books was negative, it was only about slavery,” she said. “And it was just this little bit we learned about George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington and I can’t hardly remember anyone else.”

Foster said that putting together her saloon — a cowboy-themed study complete with a saddle mounted near the entrance — gave her a particularly notable learning experience after researching black cowboys who were often called buffalo soldiers.

Upstairs, Foster has created rooms dedicated to her passion for learning and collecting: library wallpaper lines a little under half the second-floor living space and bookshelves display literature covering American black history spanning from slavery to Jim Crow to Barack Obama’s presidency.

Foster said she plans on letting her daughter take her pick of the home decor but she eventually wants to donate her collection to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Though the sheer number of items in her house may seem overwhelming to some, decor does not clutter Foster’s home and everything has its place.

“When I clean, I don’t mind cleaning because I rearrange things and come up with other ideas,” she said.

Foster said she’s heard minimalist mogul turned Netflix sensation Marie Kondo’s advice on keeping a tidy home.

“She said keep stuff if it gives you joy and I’m looking around and thinking about how all of this brings me joy,” Foster said. “It really makes me happy. I love my house.”

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