entwined: sisters and secrets in the silent world of artist judith scott

Entwinted: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott by Joyce Wallace Scott (Beacon Press, 2016).

Outsider Art has become a rather vague term to describe any artist outside the mainstream art world. It’s further complicated by the surge in galleries and museums selling work by these artists who are unaware of the sociopolitical economic landscape of the art world. Many scholars have returned to Jean Dubuffet’s original definition of Art Brut, Outsider’s predecessor, with a focus on the marginalized and institutionalized. It is here, in Raw Art, that Judith Scott is a creative genius.

I first learned about Judy when I saw this photo.

I was a textile major in graduate school and in this image I saw an artist who understood the emotive quality of fibers. Like Judy, threads are silent storytellers that contain memory, both literal and figurative. Though Judy could not hear or speak she could see and feel, recognizing that fibers can be shaped into bodies of comfort and sculptures of joy.

Entwined is Joyce’s story, Judy’s twin. Among her many accomplishments Joyce is a poet, evident in her lyrical narrative about helping Judy, and herself, ultimately find that joy. This only happened much later in life, after Judy survived a lifetime of violence due to neglect and unknowing. Born at a time when no one understood (or seemingly cared to understand) (dis)ability like Down’s Syndrome or deafness or learning (dis)abilities, Judy was institutionalized. This harmed Judy, but also Joyce who struggled to live independently of her twin.

As an adult, Joyce was determined to find a different way for Judy to move through life. She moved Judy to California and daily brought her to Creative Growth, a studio space for adults with various (dis)abilities. For two years, Judy rarely participated. When fiber artist Sylvia Seventy visited the studio, Judy recognized the material that would give her voice.

Judy worked doggedly on hundreds of sculptures during the final years of her life, a process in which Joyce and her family were able to participate. Her book is both an important account for understanding Judy’s work and a remarkable memoir about family and (dis)ability. Though Judy, who died in 2005, is the internationally acclaimed artist who introduced Outsider Art to the American public, we have Joyce to thank for this. Through dogged determination and blind faith Joyce reunited with her twin and then shared her with us. We are all forever changed.

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

ohio outsider artist ben hartman

Ben Hartman was a molder for the Springfield (Ohio) Machine Tool Company. He and his wife, Mary, lived with their three children on the corner of Russell and McCain Avenues.

During the Great Depression, Ben lost his job at the tool company. Struggling to keep active, he built a cement fishing pond in the backyard. This was just the beginning. Over the next 12 years, Ben kept building a variety of small houses, walls, and figures, all deriving from religious and American historical subjects.

By 1939, Ben was back working at the tool company and spent less time perfecting his stone garden. He died in 1944 of silicosis, likely from his molding work at the company. Mary maintained the garden for the next 53 years. After her death in 1997, the garden went in to neglect. In 2008, the Kohler Foundation purchased the lot and restored the backyard. A year later they transferred ownership to the Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden.

Ben’s backyard is a visionary environment, a work by a self-taught artist that was primarily created for his own joy. Like many Outsider Artists, Ben’s artwork is highly religious (Christian). The work is monumental, not only in its physical scope. A visitor to his garden is left feeling an intimate connection to Ben, a soul laid bare in a rural suburb’s backyard.

(biographical content from hartmanrockgarden.org and the brochure available at the garden)

Springfield Central Fire Station (concrete, red brick, dolostone, and stream gravel)
Springfield Central Fire Station (concrete, red brick, dolostone, and stream gravel)
detail of one of the many houses
detail of one of the many houses
detail near the Liberty Bell; below the Bell is WWI's Flanders Field with crosses and fallen soliders
detail near the Liberty Bell; below the Bell is WWI’s Flanders Field with crosses and fallen soldiers
detail of the Cathedral, a 14' tall structure; this niche is The Last Supper
detail of the Cathedral, a 14′ tall structure; this niche is The Last Supper
another detail from the Cathedral; Ben wasn't Catholic but there are many Virgin Mary statutes in the yard
another detail from the Cathedral; Ben wasn’t Catholic but there are many Virgin Mary statutes in the yard
The 12' tall Castle had a moat, drawbridge, and over 100 windows
The 12′ tall Castle had a moat, drawbridge, and over 100 windows
Fort Dearborn
Fort Dearborn
an overview of the yard; in the back right is the Tree of Life (country, school, and church)
an overview of the yard; in the back right is the Tree of Life (country, school, and church)

I’ll post more photos on my Tumblr and Instagram @artistlibrarian



greer lankton at the mattress factory

Since graduate school I’ve wanted to see Greer Lankton’s It’s All About ME, Not You. The installation was first exhibited at the Mattress Factory in 1996 and became a permanent installation in 2009.

Lankton was born Greg in 1958 and, with the help of his minister father’s Presbyterian church, became female at 21. Lankton. Her dolls are her most powerful and personal work. In It’s All About ME, Lankton seems to recreate her Chicago studio, as evident by photos of the space taken by David Paul.

The installation is a bedroom, surmised by the bed where a morphine addicted dolls lies thin and weak. Many of the dolls and framed images reflect Lankton’s life as a transexual and drug addict. It’s dark and the viewer can’t enter the room; you must peer through the windows at the highly sexed dolls like a voyeur.

The installation is a retrospective of the artist and, in a way, a shrine to herself. Lankton died of a drug overdose soon after completing the installation. Check out The Blitz Kids and the Greer Lankton Archives Museum to learn more about this seemingly forgotten but amazing artist.

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strings attached: the living tradition of czech puppets at the columbus museum of art

Strings Attached: The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets is currently up at the Columbus Museum of Art until August 4th. It’s a terrific exhibition for those interested in dolls, textiles, woodcarving, mythology, and more. According to the website, there are over 140 puppets in exhibition along with set designs, masks, and video. It’s definitely far more exciting and inventive than the Mark Rothko exhibition that has been getting all the attention! (sorry art history)

Here are some of my favorites from the show (photography permitted without flash):

Kai and Gerda from The Snow Queen (1967)
harp player 
from The Conqueror (2005)
from The Conqueror (2005) 
Snow White
Little Trumpet, The Dog in Armor from The Coach with Hay (2000); these guys are inspired by Hieronymus Bosch
Pantalone, Francesca from Capocomico (1990); apparently, it’s a love story…
puppet by the great animator Jan Svankmajer (1990)

lacma & watts tower from arlis pasadena

As part of my time at ARLIS/NA’s 2013 annual conference, I took a tour of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers.

Clockwork Orange
Clockwork Orange

At LACMA, we were given a private tour of the Stanley Kubrick exhibition. You walk through the exhibition following the chronology of Kubrick’s films, viewing on-set photographs, video clips, and costumes and props. Fun fact of the tour: Dr. Strangelove was suppose to end with a pie fight.

With about a half hour to myself, I wandered through the contemporary art. Stephen Prina was on view as well as Ends and Exits: Contemporary Art from LACMA and the Broad Art Foundation. I saw my first Richard Serra!

David Wojnarowicz
David Wojnarowicz
scientists work at Watts Towers
scientists work at Watts Towers

Before leaving LACMA, we had a lecture by a leading scientist on the preservation of Watts. The Towers were built by Italian immigrant Simon (aka Sam) Rodia during his ~30 years at the residence. He worked alone, without scaffolding (the tallest tower is almost 100 feet), building with reinforced cement and broken tiles. Heat is a major trouble factor for the work. Cement cracks are opening wider and wider every day. To date, preservationists attempts to fill the cracks haven’t held.

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