Monthly Archives: January 2015

Inspiration: Judith Scott

If you’re within striking distance of the Brooklyn Museum, check out “Judith Scott — Bound and Unbound,” thru March 29th. Pure amazingness! Scott, a highly recognized fiber artist, produced a lot of original and fascinating work and has a compelling story. And her story and her art prompt so many interesting questions and thoughts.

IMG_3777Diagnosed in infancy with Down’s Syndrome, deaf and mute, Scott was diagnosed as profoundly retarded and institutionalized until age 44, when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area under the guardianship of Joyce, her twin sister. Joyce enrolled Judith in a studio art program at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. Scott spent seventeen years there (she died in 2005), working six days a week, and created a highly regarded and widely collected body of fiber artworks.

IMG_3773The Creative Growth Art Center, founded in 1974, serves an extended community of mentally, developmentally, and physically disabled adult artists.  The Center provides a studio environment focused on artistic production rather than on defined therapeutic goals. According to Tom di Maria, the director at the center, “our philosophy is to nurture the creative process, not direct, control, or teach in a conventional way. We are very hands off, and give everyone lots of time, and Judith benefited from that. But after she began her first sculpture, she essentially worked independently and without guidance.”

IMG_3674Scott arrived at Creative Growth in 1987 and produced a series of drawings in various mediums, samples of which are included in the show. The looping, repetitive forms, with mixed colors and occasional collage added, seem a precursor to her intricate and and mysterious sculptures.

Once Scott was introduced to fiber, she had found her medium. Her earlier, totem-like works were bundled sticks wrapped with yarn and torn fabric.



IMG_3670Scott’s process typically involved wrapping a found object armature with yarn, rope, thread, fabric and other fibers until the work had transfomed into what she considered a finished piece. She worked on a single piece at a time, sometimes for weeks or months, and when she had finished, she pushed it away and started in on something new.

IMG_3697The armatures are sometimes partially visible, such as in these pieces, one built around blue plastic forms and another incorporating a rubber hose.



Some of the works seem to reveal elements in a deliberate manner, as in this monochromatic work with loops of purple rubber hose peeking out.


And sometimes what’s inside is a complete mystery.

IMG_3795This work  was constructed from paper towels which Scott collected when she found that she had run out of materials.


The details — the colors, textures, wrapping, weaving, knotting — are varied and intricate.




The sculptural forms are graceful, striking, complex, rich in color, movement, and expression. They prompt many associations for the viewer.


IMG_3802And they prompt so many questions about the artist, her process, and the nature of creativity itself. Oh, sweet mystery of life! What is inside her beautiful, mysterious, package-like sculptures, and what was in Scott’s mind? Is her work an expression of an internal narrative? What informed her creative visions and decisions? Was her process purely intuitive? Was there intention and deliberation involved? What part does cognition play in creative process? Did Scott know she was creating an artwork? We will never know. And how many other people with mental disabilities, invisible to society, long written off as incapable of functioning, are also amazing artists? Wonderful, powerful food for thought.

Anonymous, sort of

It’s not unusual for therapy clients to be curious about their therapist’s other clients. In the case of an art therapist, this curiosity Is intensified by the physical evidence, the materials and artwork, left by other clients in the art therapy room.

In the case of an art therapist working in a foster care agency, this curiosity is an ever-present topic. There is a family-like atmosphere in a foster care agency, where foster parents are often relatives or friends or at least acquaintances, and foster children become part of their social circles. Agency staff (case workers, therapists, psychiatrists, medical staff, etc) are shared by many children, which furthers the communal sense. Many of the kids stay in the system for years, so those who were my clients often knew each other, and my teen clients were sometimes good friends. Although kids often feel supported by this sense of community, they often feel exposed and smothered by it too. (Sounds like family, right?) Although they’re curious to know about OTHER clients, they don’t want anyone in THEIR business.

Maintaining boundaries and confidentiality in these circumstances is challenging, with so many interactions and all kinds of scenarios being played out publicly, right in the lobby. But it’s important to try.


I love this cardboard tube piece that hung over the desk in my office because it seems a great metaphor for all these issues around community and privacy. The staff in our medical clinic, just down the hall from me, knew I used a lot of recycled materials, and they began collecting the cardboard tubes from inside the rolls of examining table paper. The tubes turned out to be really appealing to some kids, and they began painting them in their sessions and hanging them up all over the art therapy room. Eventually, when I moved from one office to another, the tubes became consolidated into one hanging. So the various artists are unknown to each other, but yet it imparts a sense of community while revealing nothing else.

More zig zag

Sometimes one thing leads to another.

I have been making a lot of little zig zag books lately. (I wrote a recent post about them.) Then I went to the show of Matisse Cut-outs at the Museum Of Modern Art. It was so gorgeous and inspiring. There’s really no one like Matisse.

Back at home, I was breaking down a carton to recycle and found some cardboard dividers inside. They looked like little pages, so I hung onto them.


The next day, a friend brought me a generous amount of wild-looking leather scraps from a stash someone donated to her community craft workshop. I wouldn’t call them beautiful, but as collage materials they seemed full of possibility.


So I made a zig zag book.



Click to enlarge