Get to Know Textile Artist Judith Scott

Blog: Get to Know Textile Artist Judith Scott

A new exhibition at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) will celebrate the work of internationally known disabled fiber artist Judith Scott. Scott’s story, her prolific artmaking and her relationship with her fraternal twin sister Joyce are nothing short of remarkable.

Judith Scott and her fraternal twin sister Joyce were born on May 1, 1943, in Columbus, Ohio. At birth, Judith was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Soon after, a bout with scarlet fever caused Judith to lose her hearing, but her deafness was undiagnosed until age 30. She remained non-speaking throughout her life. Judith’s twin Joyce developed typically but the sisters were inseparable and they shared an idyllic early childhood with secret languages, games and nature exploration.

The twins’ happiness ended abruptly when the girls were seven years old and their parents institutionalized Judith. Judith was given scant information about why her sister was taken away and for the next 35+ years, she only saw Judith when accompanying her parents on visits to the institution. The separation was devastating for both twins and the conditions in the state institution where Judith was placed were horrific.

While her sister was captive and isolated, Joyce tried to distract herself. She moved to California, married, had children and pursued a career as a developmental specialist working with mothers and babies with disabilities, many of whom had Down syndrome like Judith.

When the twins were 43 years old, Joyce had a revelation that inspired her to become her sister’s legal guardian. After a tough legal fight, Joyce brought Judith home to live in her Berkeley, California, residence. There, Joyce did her best to help her traumatized sister recover and worked to rebuild their relationship.

Soon after the sisters were united, Joyce enrolled Judith in the Creative Growth Art Center, a studio for artists with disabilities. At first, Judith showed little interest in artistic pursuits. But when a visiting textile artist demonstrated how to use yarn and textiles to create art, Judith was enthralled.

“From then on, she was unstoppable,” recalls Joyce in her memoir “Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott.”  “All day, five days a week, she created mysterious sculptures, building each from a core of discarded, rejected or misplaced objects that she tied together, bound, then wrapped and wove with threads. Each yarn was selected with an extraordinary sense of color, texture and design.”

It didn’t take long for Judith’s teachers and members of the art community to recognize her talent. Judith’s work has been shown in museums including the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Folk Art Museum and the American Visionary Art Museum. Her upcoming exhibition “The Secret Within: The Art of Judith Scott” will be on display at AVAM from July 2, 2023 through June 30, 2024. According to the museum’s website. The show will include “14 to 18 of Judith’s works spanning her lifetime as an artist at Creative Growth Center. These works consist of both her 3-D fiber art sculptures and earlier examples of her 2-D drawings and paintings. More than a retrospective, this exhibition offers insight into Scott’s process, the materials she used, and how her story is a shining example of the art of embracing life.”

In addition to Judith’s artwork, “The Secret Within” includes anecdotes from Joyce, and Tom di Maria, director of the Creative Growth Art Center. Additionally, the exhibition will examine issues of accessibility in the arts and provide resources that serve artists with developmental, intellectual, and physical disabilities.

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