Home | BaltimoreBrew.com
Culture & Artsby Fern Shen8:06 amFeb 26, 20240

The wild and wonderful quilts of Baltimore’s Elizabeth Talford Scott

On exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art and other venues across the city, works by the amazing mother of Baltimore artist Joyce Scott

Above: Detail from “Eyes of the Eighties.” 1991. From “Eyewinkers, Tumbleturds, and Candlebugs: The Art of Elizabeth Talford Scott. Baltimore Museum of Art. (Fern Shen)

Her vision failing, Elizabeth Talford Scott made a promise to her ophthalmologist: she would give him one of her works of art if he could restore her eyesight.

“After successful surgeries on both her eyes, one Saturday afternoon she came to the office and, after sitting in the waiting room for some time, she asked me for a ride home,” recalled Dr. Basil S. Morgan.

“When she opened the door to her home, she presented me with this magnificent work of art.”

“Eyes of the Eighties,” on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art as part of a show of Talford Scott’s work, is on loan from Morgan, who has had it hanging in his Baltimore waiting room for the last three decades.

“I was overwhelmed by the vibrant color and the tactile elements of the piece, but most important, the capacity of Mrs. Scott to capture the beauty and wonder of eyesight,” Morgan wrote in a caption accompanying the piece at the BMA show.

The meticulously stitched, multi-colored spears of quilted fabric in the 1991 piece (shown above) explode from a central “eye” like a supernova.

The general public now has an opportunity, like Dr. Morgan’s patients, to see Talford Scott’s work with their own eyes, thanks to two coordinated projects.

There are the 20 mixed media fiber works on display at the BMA through April 28 (Eyewinkers, Tumbleturds, and Candlebugs: The Art of Elizabeth Talford Scott).

And there’s a community celebration of the artist’s work with eight other exhibitions at Baltimore museums and colleges: No Stone Left Unturned: The Elizabeth Talford Scott Initiative.

“Person on a Swing (1996) by Elizabeth Talford Scott at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Fern Shen)

Sea Creatures and a Swinger

Talford Scott brings her wild and powerful inner vision to life with fabric, buttons, sequins, embroidery, rick rack and rocks attached to these quilted pieces in little pouches made of onion-bag netting from the supermarket.

One piece features a family of sea creatures, guarded by a snake. In the 1996 “Person on a Swing,” the central figure is surrounded by butterflies and other abstract life forms.

“To look at Elizabeth Scott’s quilts is to see a world of life and a world of art,” the Baltimore Sun art critic John Dorsey wrote in a review of a 1998 show of Talford Scott’s work at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

“They refer back to her African ancestors’ way of making fabrics, and they resemble abstract art.”

(The current BMA exhibition, like that earlier one, was curated by MICA Curator-in-Residence Emeritus, George Ciscle.)

There’s rich curatorial material in this show, including a biographical timeline and a video featuring the artist, who died in 2011, discussing her work. (Don’t miss the video.)

Then there’s a 3-D rendering of a photographic portrait of Talford Scott, part of the curators’ effort to make the show as accessible as possible.

A 3-D version of Carl Clark's 1997 portrait of Talford-Scott, part of the current Baltimore Museum of Art show. (Fern Shen)

A 3-D version of Carl Clark’s 1997 portrait of Talford Scott, part of the current Baltimore Museum of Art show. (Fern Shen)

Born in South Carolina on land her parents worked as sharecroppers and where previously her grandparents were held as enslaved people, Elizabeth Caldwell Talford Scott was the sixth of 14 children.

After she and her then-partner, Charlie Scott Jr., came to Baltimore in the early 1940s, Elizabeth worked in food service, as a hired caregiver for other people’s children and as a single mother caring for her own child.

During that time, she took a hiatus from the quilting she learned as a child from family members to care for her family.

(She’s the mother of Baltimore artist and MacArthur Foundation fellow, Joyce J. Scott. Promotion for an upcoming BMA retrospective of Scott’s 50-year career – Joyce J. Scott, Walk a Mile in my Dreams – gives an idea of her multi-media oeuvre:

“The exhibition will feature significant examples of the artist’s sculpture—both stand-alone and wearable pieces—alongside performance footage, garments, prints, and materials from Scott’s personal archive.”)

After her daughter was self-sufficient, Talford Scott “returned to her creative practice with dedication, vigor and potency,” according to her estate’s official website:

Developing techniques that acknowledged her family history yet moved beyond, Scott began to innovate, creating fiber works that incorporated stones, buttons, shells, bones, sequence, beads, knotted material, glass, and other unconventional objects amassed in bright, bold, and lively compositions that boast heavily layered surfaces of organic, unstructured shapes much richer in detail than many distinguished contemporary paintings.

During her lifetime, Talford Scott exhibited infrequently at the Studio Museum of Harlem, The Museum of American Folk Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Her presence in the larger art world was negligible because “there simply was close to no space carved out for Black, female makers who worked in fiber.”

With the BMA show and citywide celebration of her work, curators are creating that space and inviting the public to look inside.

Most Popular