I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this Fab Fiber Artist series as much as I've loved researching and writing it! Be sure you get caught up with our other talented artists: Nancy Crow, Faith Ringgold, Marti Michell and Rachel Clark. Today I bring you our first non-quilter. (cue *GASP*) Get ready to be inspired, because today we are talking about Judith Scott.
Photo cred: oakvillagegalleries.com
Judith Scott: Misunderstood
Judith Scott was born on May 1, 1943. So was Joyce Scott. Speaking from experience, because my mom is a twin (Jane and Judy - veeery close to Joyce and Judith), I have seen how intimate that bond is. Judith and Joyce were closely connected and instantly inseparable – even though Judith was born with Down Syndrome and mostly nonverbal.
Photo cred: textileartist.org
Growing up in a semi-rural suburb of Cincinnati, Judith and Joyce’s parents wanted both girls to be given equal opportunities. Joyce naturally gravitated to Judith’s side, making sure she always had an interpreter and advocate.
But at some point during her early years, Judith suffered from scarlet fever, and though she couldn’t communicate it to anyone, she became completely deaf. Since her parents were unaware of this, they couldn’t figure out why Judith was so unresponsive to direction and education.
Photo cred: huffingtonpost.com
Where the Scott's lived, there was only one classroom for children with disabilities and 7-year-old Judith was unable to pass the verbally-based entrance tests, due to her still undiagnosed deafness. (This actually wasn't diagnosed until her late 30s.) The school board advised sending Judith to live in an institution.
Little Judith was separated from her twin sister and family home, and lived in an institution for 30, silent, isolated years. But she wasn’t the only one suffering.
The Bond Between Sisters
Joyce felt the separation deeply as well, and decided in 1986 that she was going to embark on the enormous undertaking of becoming Judith’s legal guardian. The process was hard, but Joyce knew that the decision was the right one. Finally, the sisters were united once again when Judith was allowed to move to California to live with her sister and her family.
Since Joyce was a full-time nurse and couldn’t be with her sister all the time, she enrolled Judith at the Creative Growth Art Centre in Oakland. The center invited anyone with mental or psychological difficulties to express themselves with total artistic freedom. Joyce described it as a very joyful place, even though it took Judith a while for her to find her voice.
Photo cred: judithandjoycescott.com
After exploring painting, sculpting and sewing without much success, Judith took a fiber arts workshop, and the entire world opened up. Judith discovered something she loved… and something she was really, really good at. She started creating fiber sculptures, and those who knew her described her early pieces as her “very first words.”
Photo cred: sfgate.com
(And this is when I pull out the box of tissues because my heart is breaking and exploding with joy at the same time!)
The Art of Judith Scott
Once Judith started creating, she didn’t stop. She worked five days a week for eighteen years straight, producing over 200 colorful, ethereal mixed-media sculptures. Sometimes she would even work until her fingers bled! Through her unique style, she processed her childhood, her years of institutionalized isolation, and her joyful self-discovery through art, never repeating a form or color scheme.
Photo cred: penccil.com
Judith used discarded materials, wrapping each with cloth or yarn, to create stunning sculptures that are, honestly, hard to describe in words. When you think about it, that seems appropriate.
My favorite way to see her work is hanging as an installation. It's hard to capture that in a photo, but this video does a great job.
Photo cred: denadadesign.com
Judith’s first art exhibition was in 1999, which coincided with the publication of the book Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott by John MacGregor. The book and exhibition together propelled Judith into the international spotlight, and soon, museums and galleries worldwide were eager to display her work.
The art of Judith Scott was always highly individualistic, and brilliantly creative. No one had ever seen anything like it, and audiences were enthralled. Much of Judith’s work featured the theme of “pairs,” and being "intertwined," reflecting the deep connection she always felt with her twin sister.
Judith's Legacy Lives On
Judith passed away in 2005, living almost fifty years longer than her predicted life expectancy. She died in the arms of her beloved sister and trusted advocated Joyce, who always insisted that it was Judith who was the leader and teacher of the two.
Judith was the first ever artist with Down Syndrome to be featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She was once considered an “outside artist,” but as she gained more acclaim, the “outsider” label was appropriately dropped and she is now revered as a contemporary artist in her own right. Her art is still included in permanent art collections around the world, including New York City, Paris, and London.
Photo cred: artslant.com
In 2006, Betsy Bayha, a San Francisco filmmaker, produced a half-hour documentary about Judith called Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott. She has also been featured in documentaries by Lola Barrera and Phillippe Lespinasse, as well as a 2009 documentary on self-taught artists by Scott Odgen.
Judith Scott’s work has been in over 75 exhibitions since her debut in 1991, and her inspiring self-expression continues to touch people around the world.
Are you familiar with the work of Judith Scott? Maybe you've been lucky enough to see an exhibit? Let us know in the comments!