Mother and daughter artists share exhibit
Baltimore sculptor, printmaker, performance artist, bead-worker and jewelry maker Joyce J. Scott, 70, said one of the greatest influences on her art was her mother, quilter Elizabeth Talford Scott, who died in 2011 at age 95.
Some of the younger Scott’s work is currently being displayed next to her mother’s in a new exhibition, “Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars,” which opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art in May.
Scott has had more than 70 solo exhibitions, and her work is housed in 27 national museums’ permanent collections. The recipient of 26 awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship and the Mary Sawyers Imboden Baker award, Scott has received widespread international and national recognition for her work, and held artist residencies from South Africa to Murano, Italy.
But she remains rooted in her home town. “I’m an international artist, but I’m also an artist who really does support the arts within Baltimore,” she said.
Scott, a lifelong Baltimorean, received her undergraduate degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art before going on to get her MFA from Instituto Allende in Mexico. When she returned home in 1971, she began to collaborate with her mother, textile artist Elizabeth Talford Scott, working side-by-side in a studio together.
In the 1970s, Scott divided her time between the studio and the classroom. She worked as an art teacher at various recreation and community centers, where she interacted with people from every walk of life.
“I got to see my city from the ground up, working with all ages,” she said. “My youngest student was three and my oldest student was 81. To be able to look at a kid and watch them develop the ability to go beyond their basic thinking — that’s wonderful. It helps them be different kinds of students and citizens, too.”
Scott says she became an artist not only because of her mother’s influence but because of the historical circumstances that led her parents to flee North and South Carolina during the Great Migration — the resettlement, starting in 1916, of six million African Americans from the rural South to urban areas in the North and West.
They left “a very hardscrabble life,” Scott explained. “Their life was burdened by an overt, aggressive, illegal racism — the kind that could snatch you off the street and put you in a chain gang, the kind that could easily hang you. I know that those issues are what also propel me through my work because those ‘isms’ still exist.”
Throughout her 50-year career, Scott’s art has consistently addressed political and social issues. “A lot of my work has to do with guns and violence and misogyny, because these are things that consistently plague the world in general and the African-American culture in Baltimore specifically,” she said.
At the same time, Scott seeks to highlight the beauty and strength exhibited by her ancestors. “There is something very heroic and valiant about how they lived their lives and excelled through such adversity,” she said. “That kind of strength, power, wisdom is something I also work on. To me, they were superheroes.”
The collaboration between Joyce Scott and the late Elizabeth Talford Scott is the focus of two concurrent exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Goya Contemporary Gallery.
While the two Scotts rarely made pieces of art together, the nature of their working relationship was entirely based on each other’s presence and the conversations they would have in the studio.
“We just spent a lot of time talking about artwork and about design and desires, luxuriating in beauty,” Scott said. “That kind of hands-on work, it’s your mother introducing you and telling you tales that will help you become a better human being, a citizen, an adult, a young lady. So I learned manners and all sorts of things sitting at her knee.”
Elizabeth Talford Scott primarily made quilts, while Joyce Scott would create anything from multi-media sculptures to beadwork tapestries.
The BMA exhibition features 10 works — one done in direct collaboration between mother and daughter; plus, six works by Joyce Scott and three textile pieces by Elizabeth Talford Scott.
“There are generations of scholars who have been working on both the work of Joyce Scott and Elizabeth Talford Scott for years,” said Cecilia Wichmann, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
“Joyce is a brilliant mind, a creative force, and an incredibly generous person. She’s a great storyteller and through her stories, I’ve learned about her mother and the power of her mother’s stories,” Wichmann said.
Scott has no intention of slowing down. “My future is just to keep working. When I talk about social justice and being a mentor, it’s to keep showing young artists that you work past the time when people think you retire,” she explained.
“If you can stay as alive and interested and fertile as you possibly can with your artwork, then you just keep making art forever.”
“Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars” runs through December 1 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and general admission is free. For more information, call (443) 573-1700 or visit artbma.org.