By the Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Institute College of Art
Roughly 25 years ago, the Maryland Institute College of Art’s (MICA) inaugural Exhibition Development Seminar (EDS) organized a landmark retrospective of Elizabeth Talford Scott’s vibrant mixed-media fiber works that brought significant recognition to the artist and modeled innovative community-centered approaches to curation and interpretation. This fall, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is partnering with MICA and the Estate of Elizabeth Talford Scott at Goya Contemporary to build upon that legacy with an exhibition guest-curated by MICA Curator-in-Residence Emeritus George Ciscle in dialogue with a new generation of EDS students.
On view Nov. 12, 2023, through April 28, 2024, and borrowing the same title as the original exhibition, “Eyewinkers, Tumbleturds and Candlebugs: The Art of Elizabeth Talford Scott” will feature 20 stunning works by the artist that bridge the gap between fine art and craft.
Guided by 2023-24 EDS Instructor Deyane Moses, EDS students will lead the organization of the Elizabeth Talford Scott Community Celebration, expanding the recognition of Talford Scott’s oeuvre with presentations of her work at eight other institutions that have a significant history with the artist and/or EDS: Cryor Art Gallery at Coppin State University, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland Center for History and Culture, MICA, James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University, The Peale, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and the Walters Art Museum. These presentations will be on view February through May 2024.
“Elizabeth Talford Scott’s textiles are more than quilts; they are prayer pillows, healing shawls, and family diaries—artistic creations that incorporate her personal symbolism with motifs of Africa and the Deep South,” said George Ciscle, guest curator and MICA curator-in-residence emeritus. “I am delighted that the BMA and MICA are working collectively to give Talford Scott’s life story and works the time and attention they warrant and command, as well as expanding what inclusion in the arts might look like as a sustained commitment.”
Elizabeth Talford Scott’s creative legacy was inherited from generations of craftspeople in her family who had honed their expertise and persisted in their artistry through the deprivations of slavery and its aftermath in sharecropping, migration, and segregated city life on their quest for a life of freedom. She believed art-making can offer human beings the opportunity to break free of limiting social categories, evolving new ways of communicating and nurturing dreams. Her innovative fiber works incorporate stones, buttons, shells, bones, sequins, beads, knotted material, glass, and other unconventional objects amassed in bright, bold, and lively compositions that boast heavily layered surfaces and organic, unstructured shapes. Embedded within these lush surfaces are personal and worldly narratives and symbols that reference flowers, animals, astronomy, insects, sea creatures, monsters, dreams, superstitions, and good luck charms.
Among the highlights of the BMA’s exhibition are Talford Scott’s majestic “Plantation” (1980), a dazzling quilt in the BMA’s collection that envisions the big dipper as a matriarchal beacon of freedom; “Joyce’s Quilt” (1983), a tribute to her daughter with bold blocks of color; and “Grandfather’s Cabin/Noah’s Ark” (1993–96), an exquisite story quilt that recalls memories of the cabin her grandfather built on Blackstock Plantation in South Carolina.
The Elizabeth Talford Scott Community Celebration brings together five museums and four university sites across Baltimore City for a reunion of the artist’s work from February through May 2024. Each venue will have two EDS students from the participating colleges—Coppin State University, Johns Hopkins University, MICA and Morgan State University—working on a presentation of Talford Scott’s work for their gallery spaces and organizing a free public program. Under the guidance of Moses, the students will determine the curatorial direction of their presentation, drawing out connections to each organization’s collection, space, history, and/or audience. A companion video will provide background on the artist’s life and work as well as information about each of the community partners.
“It is deeply meaningful to expand upon the BMA’s mission of artistic excellence and social equity with this important collaborative project, which revolves around a method and process of working in the community with students at four colleges and these wonderful institutions across Baltimore to co-create an experience that will bring greater recognition to the work of Elizabeth Talford Scott,” said Asma Naeem, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis director. “We are looking forward to sharing her extraordinary textiles and the rich stories embedded in each with our visitors and encourage everyone to discover more of her work in February at every venue.”
Elizabeth Talford Scott’s (1916-2011) quilts and wall hangings have been exhibited at many Baltimore venues, as well as at Florida A&M University, New York’s Studio Museum of Harlem, The Museum of American Folk Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her exhibitions culminated with a retrospective in 1998 titled “Eyewinkers, Tumbleturds, and Candlebugs: The Art of Elizabeth Talford Scott” that opened at the Maryland Institute College of Art and traveled to the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC; New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA; and Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC.
She often lectured and taught workshops collaboratively with her daughter Joyce J. Scott, including the Maryland State Art’s Council’s Artist in Education Program; Smithsonian Institution’s Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C.; Penland School of Craft in North Carolina; and at University of Colorado, Boulder. In 1987, she received the prestigious Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award.