Entwined | Judith Scott & Joyce Wallace Scott | Granta

Blessed to be born as twins, Judy and I shared a magic country childhood, rich in color, texture and sensation, a world unmediated by words. In the Ohio sun, with the wind in our hair, we poured water into holes and felt the sand between our toes.

For almost eight years we slept curled together, like soft spoons, sharing our dream world. Then one morning I awoke to find her gone, taken away without warning in the darkness, to a nightmare state institution where she would endure the next thirty-five years alone. Her unrecognized deafness wrapped her in an isolation that was only broken when we visited her as a family, which became increasingly infrequent following our father’s heart attack and early death.

With Judy gone, I was devastated, confused and uncertain, continually praying for a miracle that would reunite us. When that miracle didn’t happen, I created for myself a life full of distractions and busyness. While Judy continued to endure, I moved to California, married, had children, divorced, and worked as a developmental specialist with mothers and babies with disabilities, often with Down syndrome like Judy. I now see that I was seeking that original connection, seeking to support other children and their mothers – families like mine.

But none of it was enough and in time I sought solace through meditation. I attended a six-day silent retreat focused on grief and loss. On the fifth day, all my busyness fell away. In a moment of profound insight I could see clearly that in my heart Judy and I were still together and still one. In that moment, I knew with absolute certainty that Judy belonged with me, with us, her family, and that I would find a way to make this possible.

I confronted the legal obstacles and became Judy’s guardian. A year later she arrived in Berkeley, California, both of us coming home to each other at last.

Not long after her arrival, I discovered the Creative Growth Art Center, and I immediately knew that the spirit of joy and creativity I found there was something I wanted for Judy. I had no idea if she had any artistic abilities and indeed, for two years, she remained obstinately uninspired and created nothing.

Then a miracle happened.

Through a small workshop given by a visiting fiber artist, Judy, unable to hear directions or suggestions, discovered for herself the materials – yarns and fibers – that she would use in a new way all her own. From then on, she was unstoppable. 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.

These sculptures astounded everyone except for Judy who, undisturbed by the excitement surrounding her, continued every day to take pleasure in creating more and more pieces, some of them taking months to complete. She worked without stopping, often until her fingers bled. As recognition of her work grew, so did her creations – and so did the scarves she wrapped around her head, now more and more layered and intricate, as she made herself into her own living sculpture.

It has been suggested to me that Judy’s years of neglect and suffering may have influenced her work, her wrapping and covering reflecting a need to hide and protect what had been stolen or abandoned. That seems probable – often she secreted precious objects into the heart of her pieces, then layered on top of them until they were invisible.

Through her art, Judy found a way to create beauty from what others discarded and, most importantly, she found her voice, a way to create her own paragraphs and poetry, and did so with great eloquence.

Always Judy had a love of life and a love of others that lit up the lives of those around her: my family and myself, our shared friends, Creative Growth friends and artists. This love came without judgement or conditions – it was absolute. Even our mother was changed, although her heart had shut down years ago with the pain and sense of guilt for having her daughter institutionalized. Judy’s blossoming opened her heart to the original love she had felt for her, and a miraculous healing occurred.

After eighteen years at Creative Growth, we are together at the end as at the beginning. As I hold Judy in my arms in her dying, I feel her pass to me her strength and our mutual purpose becomes mine alone. I give her my promise to continue to share her story and her legacy, not only to celebrate her creative genius, but to enlarge the world’s awareness of the potential of each human being and the understanding that no one is without gifts and talents. Each person deserves to be seen and honored as unique and precious.




All images © Creative Growth Art Center


Judy’s full story can be found in Entwined – Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott, by Joyce Wallace Scott, published by Beacon Press in Boston, Mass. Entwined can be purchased from Beacon Press or from your local bookseller. The paperback is now available.

Judith Scott

Judith Scott (1943–2005) was a visual artist isolated from outside influences as a result of the impact of deafness and Down’s syndrome. She was independent and self-directed. In the 18 years Scott made her work she never repeated a form or color scheme. Crafting armatures of bamboo slats and discarded materials, she diligently wrapped each work with lengths of knotted cloth or yarn. The artist was introduced to fiber art in 1987 by artist Sylvia Seventy at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, CA, and produced a remarkable, breathtaking body of mixed-media sculptures. Roger Cardinal and John MacGregor, internationally known scholars in the field, designated Scott an 'Outsider artist', as her sculptures reflect little cultural input and are highly individualistic, reflecting Scott’s own unique personal vision. Her work is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Collection de l’Art Brut, Switzerland; The American Folk Art Museum, New York; the Museum of Everything, London; and her work was part of a group exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, New York, in 2006.

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Joyce Wallace Scott

Joyce Wallace Scott is an educator, RN, Developmental Specialist and published poet. She serves on the advisory board of the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, and is currently involved in establishing a program for artists with disabilities in Bali, one dedicated to her sister’s memory.

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