Art Therapy – More Than Either

I was at my friend Amy Henderson’s house for her birthday party on Friday evening. She is the founder of the Geezer Gallery here in a Portland and an advocate of keeping Art in our lives from birth til we leave this planet — and hopefully beyond.  She had this installation on her wall:

Tribute to Judith Scott by Mar Goman

I was both repelled and attracted to it.  On the one hand it looked like embalmed bodies, on the other it looked like figures about to burst forth from a binding cocoon.  I asked Amy about it and she told me it was Portland artist Mar Goman’s tribute to Judith Scott.

Judith Scott was an “outsider” artist who’s story is both tragic and redemptive.  Born with Down Syndrome and deafness, she was separated from her twin sister at age seven and sent to an abusive mental institution.  This is an excerpt from her obituary published in the Chronicle by Rona Marech:

“Ms. Scott, who was deaf and mute, was sent away from her Cincinnati home when she was 7 years old. For 36 years, she lived in a state institution, where she had very little stimulation or means for expressing herself.

Then in 1985, Ms. Scott’s twin sister, who had been too young to understand when her twin disappeared from her life, had a sudden realization at a meditation retreat. She found Ms. Scott and brought her to Berkeley so they could “have the rest of our lives mostly together,” she told The Chronicle in a 2002 interview.

Joyce Scott enrolled her sister at Creative Growth Art Center , an Oakland art organization for people with physical, mental or emotional disabilities.

For almost two years, Ms. Scott showed up regularly at the studio but failed to make a single piece of work other than aimless scribblings. The organization was evaluating whether the studio was the right place for her when Ms. Scott picked up some sticks and yarn one day, said Tom di Maria, the Creative Growth executive director. The staff watched excitedly as Ms. Scott wrapped her first sculpture.

It was nonstop after that, di Maria said Thursday.

Five days a week for 20 years, Scott left her group home in Berkeley and traveled to the studio in Oakland . Often showing up in the colorful scarves and jewelry she loved, she would settle in her corner and set to work, steadily wrapping, weaving, twisting and tying.

She used yarn, cardboard, foam, bits of fabric, wood scraps and a range of objects that caught her eye from an old fan to bike parts, coat hangers, a skateboard, a computer screen. As she worked, often for months on a single piece, the found items would slowly disappear behind layers of colorful tapestry. A documentary film crew from Spain recently had one of her pieces X- rayed to find out just what was inside.”

Her story of art therapy shows a lot about the human need to connect, how outside the confines of language, art can communicate so very much.  When Mar Goman told Amy the story behind the pieces, it gave Amy goosebumps.  And me too, when I saw them. The story within the images is present in them and yet hidden, wrapped up tight, unable to emerge.  It’s very compelling stuff.  No wonder Judith’s odd twisty works resonate with such power.  Even Goman’s interpretation of them brim with life — its complexity, its prisons, its potential for beauty in even the worst of circumstances.

Here’s a link to a website on Judith Scott.

And here’s one to a past exhibition at the 23 Sandy Gallery of Mar Goman.  I couldn’t find a direct website for her, so if you know of one, let me know.

And keep looking at art you don’t fully understand.  Ask questions.  The answer may surprise and elevate you.

2 thoughts on “Art Therapy – More Than Either

  1. Hi Joy,
    Delighted to come across your recent piece on my sister-in-law, Judith Scott. In particular I was interested in Mar Goman’s work, with which I was unfamiliar.

    My wife is almost finished writing her definitive account of Judith’s life, the first two chapters of which can be read on her web site:

    Best wishes, John Cooke

    1. I look forward to seeing the biography of Judith Scott. I’m so glad your wife is making her life and story available to everyone. I love that Judith’s work is influencing artists everywhere!

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