Branded incapable, she made exquisite art

Sunday, November 30, 2014

There's a very special young woman at Chronicle Books (I think I've mentioned this) named Taylor Norman. Has books—and kindness (and smarts)—in her blood. Is out there reading our manuscripts, tweeting our stories, talking about our books, talking us off cliffs if, indeed, we find ourselves standing on cliffs.

A few days ago, Taylor, who, read One Thing Stolen, my novel about Florence, Italy, art, obsession, and mental wellness, when it wasn't much of a book at all (oh, poor Tamra, and oh, poor Taylor), sent this link from The New Yorker. It tells the tale of an exquisite fiber artist, Judith Scott, whose work involved the making of secrets—embedding umbrellas and tree branches and other found objects within weaves and knots.

But that is not all of who Judith was. Judith was a twin sister, born with Down syndrome, whose profound deafness went undiagnosed while she lived out her years in an institution. Here is the story, in the words of New Yorker writer Andrea K. Scott:

Scott died in 2005, at the age of sixty-one, and didn’t start making art until her mid-forties. She was born with Down syndrome, went deaf as a child, and never learned how to speak. Languishing in an institution in her native Ohio for more than three decades with her deafness undiagnosed, Scott was considered so beyond help that she wasn’t allowed to use crayons. In 1986, her fraternal twin, Joyce, brought Scott to San Francisco and enrolled her in Creative Growth, a community art center for disabled adults. At first, Scott dabbled in drawings. A smattering are in the show, but they’re no match for the radical beauty that followed, when Scott took a textile workshop and had a breakthrough, loosely binding sticks into an uncanny totemic cluster. As her work gained complexity, the Bay Area began to take note; by 2001, Scott had been the subject of major shows in Switzerland, Japan, and New York.

So much about this story sears. And yes, Taylor, this reminds me, in so many ways, of Nadia Cara, my character, whose art is also a secret as well as a compulsion coming from a secret place.

Judith Scott's work is now on display at the Brooklyn Museum. I intend to see it.


Anonymous said...


Dana said...

Oh my gosh that story is so wrenching and also amazing... I wish I was still living in Brooklyn so I could swing by the exhibit! It also makes me so curious about your character Nadia!

Debbie Levy said...

Another reader already said this, but this is what I have to say: wow.

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