Judith Scott (artist)

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Judith Scott
Judith Scott, c. 1998 photograph by Leon Borensztein
Born(1943-05-01)1 May 1943
Died15 March 2005(2005-03-15) (aged 61)
MovementFiber art
Outsider art

Judith Scott (May 1, 1943 – March 15, 2005) was an American fiber sculptor, born with Down Syndrome and deaf.[2] She was internationally renowned for her art.[3] In 1987, Judith was enrolled at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, which supports people with developmental disabilities.[4] There, Judith discovered her passion and talent for abstract fiber art, and she was able to communicate in a new form.[2] An account of Scott's life, Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott, was written by her twin sister, Joyce Wallace Scott, and was published in 2016.


Judith was born into a middle-class family in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 1, 1943, along with her fraternal twin sister Joyce.[5] Unlike Joyce, Judith was born with Down Syndrome. During her infancy, Judith had Scarlet Fever, which caused her to lose her hearing, a fact that remained unknown until much later on in her life.[5]

Judith Scott spent her first seven and a half years at home with her parents, twin sister and older brothers. Although the developmental gap between the two girls was apparent, "the parents consciously sought to treat these youngest members of the family alike."[6][7]

However, when it was time for the girls to start attending school, Judith was found to be "ineducable." There was only one classroom for children with disabilities, and Judith was not able to pass the verbally-based entrance tests, due to her still undiagnosed deafness.[8] Consequently, on medical advice, her parents placed Judith in the Columbus State Institution (formerly the Columbus State School), an institution for mentally disabled people, on October 18, 1950. This separation had a profound effect on both twins.[4]

The records from Judith Scott's first few years at the Institution indicate that she had an IQ of 30 (based upon oral testing before her deafness was recognized). For this reason she was denied any training opportunities. Deprived of her twin, Judith became severely alienated, and behavioral problems soon surfaced. Her Clinical Record states that "She does not seem to be in good contact with her environment. She does not get along well with other children, is restless, eats messily, tears her clothing, and beats other children. Her presence on the ward is a disturbing influence."[6][7] Soon after, she was moved to a smaller state institution at Gallipolis, Ohio.[4]

In 1985, after 35 years of complete separation and lengthy and difficult negotiations, Joyce Scott became her sister's legal guardian, and brought Judith to live with her in California, a state where all mentally disabled citizens are entitled to an ongoing education.[7]

Judith Scott died of natural causes at her sister's home in Dutch Flat, California, a few weeks short of her 62nd birthday.[1][7] She outlived her life expectancy at birth by almost fifty years.[4]


On April 1, 1987, Judith Scott began attending the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, one of the first organizations in the world to provide studio space for artists with disabilities.[8] For almost two years, Judith showed little interest in any artistic activity. She was unexceptional with paint. She scribbled loops and circles, but her work contained no representational imagery, and she was so uninterested in creating that the staff was considering ending her involvement with the program.

It wasn't until Judith casually observed a fiber art class conducted by visiting artist Sylvia Seventy, that she had her artistic breakthrough. Using the materials at hand, Judith spontaneously invented her own unique and radically different form of artistic expression. While other students were stitching, she was sculpting with an unprecedented zeal and concentration.

Her creative gifts and absolute focus were quickly recognized, and she was given complete freedom to choose her own materials. Taking whatever objects she found, regardless of ownership, she would wrap them in carefully selected colored yarns to create diverse sculptures of many different shapes. Some resemble cocoons or body parts, while others are elongated totemic poles. Many of her works also feature pairs, reflecting Scott's experience as a twin. Judith worked on her art five days a week for eighteen years, producing over 200 pieces in total.[8]

Judith had her first exhibition in 1999, which coincided with the publication of John MacGregor's book Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott. Together, these events helped propel her to worldwide recognition.[8]


Scott's work has become immensely popular in the world of outsider art, and her pieces sell for substantial sums.[9] Scott is now hailed as a contemporary artist, no longer just an outsider.[4][10] Her art is held in the permanent collections of many museums, including: Museum of Modern Art (Manhattan, New York),[2] the American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore, Maryland), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,[2] Museum of American Folk Art (Manhattan, New York), Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago, Illinois), Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA. L'Aracine Musee D'Art Brut (Paris, France), Art Brut Connaissance & Diffusion Collection (Paris and Prague), Collection de l'art brut (Lausanne, Switzerland).[2]


Year Title Type Length Notes
2006 Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott. Documentary 30 minutes Made by San Francisco filmmaker Betsy Bayha.[11]
2006 ¿Qué tienes debajo del sombrero? (What's under your hat?) Documentary 75 minutes Made by Lola Barrera and Iñaki Peñafiel.[12][13]
2006 Les Cocons Magiques de Judith Scott Documentary 36 minutes Made by Philippe Lespinasse, filmed a few weeks before Scott's death[14]
2009 Make Documentary 69 minutes Scott Ogden and Malcolm Hearn produced film examines the lives and art-making techniques of Hawkins Bolden, Judith Scott, Prophet Royal Robertson, and Ike Morgan.[15][16]


Below is a list of select notable exhibitions for Judith Scott.

Solo exhibitions[edit]

  • 2018 – Judith Scott: Touchdown, Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, California
  • 2014-15 – Bound and Unbound, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York[17]
  • 2009 – Judith Scott: Retrospective, Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York City, New York
  • 2002 – Cocoon: Judith Scott, Ricco-Maresca Gallery, New York City, New York[18]

Group exhibitions[edit]


  1. ^ a b Marech, Rona (19 March 2005). "Judith Scott -- renowned for her fiber art sculptures". San Francisco Chronicle.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Judith Scott". Art21. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  3. ^ Downes, Lawrence (2 December 2014). "An Artist Who Wrapped and Bound Her Work, and Then Broke Free". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott" Beacon Press, Boston
  5. ^ a b Marchini, Gloria (2014-05-04). "Judith Scott". Outsider Art Now. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  6. ^ a b John Monroe MacGregor; Judith Scott; Leon Borensztein (September 1999). Metamorphosis: the fiber art of Judith Scott : the outsider artist and the experience of Down's syndrome. Creative Growth Art Center. pp. 44, 50. ISBN 978-0-9673160-0-0. Retrieved 5 September 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d Joyce Wallace Scott: "Entwined:Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scot" Beacon Press, Boston
  8. ^ a b c d "Joyce & Judith Scott". judithandjoycescott.com. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  9. ^ Artist Emerges With Works in a 'Private Language', by Evelyn Nieves, New York Times, June 25, 2001
  10. ^ "Judith Scott - Bound and Unbound" Brooklyn Museum, 2015
  11. ^ "Outsider- The Life & Art of Judith Scott". ReelAbilities International. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  12. ^ Fraser, Benjamin (2018-01-01). Cognitive Disability Aesthetics: Visual Culture, Disability Representations, and the (In)Visibility of Cognitive Difference. University of Toronto Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-4875-0233-1.
  13. ^ "What's under your hat?". Juliomedem.org. Archived from the original on 2011-05-21. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  14. ^ "Les cocons magiques de Judith Scott". Collection de l'art brut. 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-11-13.
  15. ^ "OUTSIDERS ON THE SCREEN". #67 Fall/Autumn 2009. Raw Vis ion. 2009. Archived from the original on 1 June 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  16. ^ Taylor, Kate (2009-04-16). "Communicating Across Barriers Few Could Imagine (Published 2009)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  17. ^ "Brooklyn Museum: Judith Scott—Bound and Unbound". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  18. ^ Smith, Roberta (2002-05-03). "ART IN REVIEW; Judith Scott -- 'Cocoon'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  19. ^ "Review: Zuckerman Museum's "Forget Me Not" another thoughtful, visually distinctive exhibit". ArtsATL. 2015-09-09. Archived from the original on 2016-03-02. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  20. ^ "La Biennale di Venezia - Artists". www.labiennale.org. Archived from the original on 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2017-02-22.
  21. ^ "Art Brut". Wall Street International. 2014-09-25. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  22. ^ "Exhibitions Archive". www.bocamuseum.org. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  23. ^ Schwendener, Martha (2013-04-05). "Drawing Evolves, Testing Its Boundaries (Published 2013)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  24. ^ "American Visionary Art Museum - Treasures of the Soul: Who is Rich?". www.avam.org. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  25. ^ "Yerba buena center for the arts". Artbusiness.com. Retrieved 2016-04-22.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mullin, Rick, "Sculpture", American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2010
  • Joyce Wallace Scott, "Entwined:Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott", Beacon Press
  • "Judith Scott - Bound and Unbound" Brooklyn Museum, 2015

External links[edit]