The artistic voice of fiber artist Judith Scott

By | August 25, 2016

The self-taught artists whose works were selected for the exhibition Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum often had unique circumstances, which unlocked their genius and set them on a path to self-actualization and amazing creativity.


Photo courtesy of Joyce Scott

One such remarkable artist is Judith Scott, recognized as one of America’s more celebrated visual artists even though she didn’t discover art until age 43 when she joined the Creative Growth Art Center, the oldest and largest art center in the world for artists with disabilities. A twin, Judith was born in 1943 with Down syndrome and lost her hearing following a bout of Scarlett fever in infancy, a fact that was not recognized until many years later. Instead, her deafness was misdiagnosed as severe retardation. She spent her early years with her twin sister, Joyce Wallace Scott, older brothers and parents, but by the time she was seven she was deemed ineducable and placed in an institution.

Life for Judith was miserable. Separated from her family and isolated by her deafness, she spent thirty-five years in anonymous seclusion before her Joyce arranged for her to be released from the institution to once again share their lives.

Judith Scott, May 1999; photo by Leon Borensztein © Leon Borensztein

Judith Scott, May 1999; photo by Leon Borensztein © Leon Borensztein

Soon after, Judith was enrolled at Creative Growth. It was there that she began to create powerful and enigmatic sculptures which she formed from whatever materials could be found and then bound them together, concealing each with layer upon layer of carefully selected colored cloths and yarns that were woven, wrapped and tied. Some of her works resemble cocoons, mummies or elongated totemic poles. Others feature pairs, reflecting Judith’s experience as a twin.

During the last 18 years of her life, she worked five hours a day, five days a week, sometimes until her fingers bled, creating more than 200 sculptures. Some were small and intimate, others so large she could barely move them without help.

Though Judith never developed language skills, her artistry was her communication with the world and the works she left behind her inner voice.

Organized by the American Folk Art Museum, Self-Taught Genius is on display at the Saint Louis Art Museum through September 11, 2016 in the Main Exhibition Galleries, East Building.