Elizabeth Talford Scott (b.1916- d.2011) was born near Chester, South Carolina on the land her parents worked as sharecroppers, and where previously her grandparents were held as enslaved people. The sixth of fourteen children who lived on the Blackstalk Plantation, the [then] young Elizabeth was trained by family members to repurpose scrapped materials into usable resources in the interest of basic survival needs. Quilting was a familiar part of the black American experience, especially in the South. It was a keystone for innovation, upcycling, expression, and for passing historical narratives from one generation to the next. Talford-Scott honed those quilting skills at a young age, though her invention within the medium would develop over many years, moving away from domestic function into improvisational, sculptural wall hangings that live squarely within the vernacular of fine art.
Migrating to Baltimore in the early 1940s, Elizabeth and her [then] husband, Charlie Scott, Jr., welcomed into the world their daughter, the now celebrated artist and MacArthur fellow Dr. Joyce J. Scott. During this period, Elizabeth Scott worked in food services, as a hired caregiver for other people’s children, and as a single mother caring for her own child. With limited time in her demanding work schedule, Elizabeth Scott took a hiatus from quilting, and it was not until her daughter was self-sufficient in the 1970s that the artist returned to her creative practice with dedication, vigor, and potency. 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.
Immersed and embedded within the lush surfaces of these works live personal and worldly narratives, and an alphabet of ancestral symbols that tell us as much about aesthetics as they do about the artist’s history. Making references to flowers, animals, intergalactic astronomy, insects, sea creatures, monsters, fantastical beings, dreams, superstitions, and good luck charms, Talford-Scott’s objects converge in a cacophony of pure visual energy where commonplace materials are metamorphosed into lessons on abstract design informed by all that she could see and imagine.
During her lifetime, although she exhibited infrequently, Elizabeth presented her work in national venues including The Studio Museum of Harlem, NY; The Museum of American Folk Art, NY; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. In 1987, Elizabeth Talford Scott was bequeathed the Women’s Caucus Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Visual Arts. In 1998, she was the subject of a retrospective exhibition curated by George Ciscle 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 among other venues in New England and North Carolina. And while the artist regularly produced workshops, frequently collaborating with her daughter Joyce J. Scott with an aim to teach young artists techniques, her presence in the larger art world was slim because at that time, there simply was close to no space carved out for black, female makers who worked in fibers.
Elizabeth Talford Scott died in 2011. In 2019, the estate management was awarded to Goya Contemporary Gallery. In that same year, E.T. Scott was the joint subject of the exhibition "Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars: Joyce J. Scott & Elizabeth Talford Scott" at the Baltimore Museum of Art and "Reality, Times Two: Joyce J. Scott & Elizabeth Talford Scott" at Goya Contemporary Gallery. The following year, Goya Contemporary mounted the artist’s first solo show with the gallery titled “Upside-Downwards.” In 2021, Talford-Scott was the subject of Goya Contemporary’s solo-artist booth at The Armory Show, and was subsequently listed as one of the top-10 booths [out of hundreds] to see by The New York Time’s coverage of the fair. Major works have recently entered the collections of the Philbrook Museum, Toledo Museum, Mint Museum, Baltimore Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Elizabeth Talford Scott’s posthumous success points to the long-standing, systemic structures that failed to recognize the work of significant female makers in their lifetimes, yet encouragingly, many institutions have newly incited reinvestigations into these overlooked, yet important artistic practices. Talford-Scott’s practice is unlike others, and she has been cited by a sundry of celebrated contemporary artists as an influence; counting her own daughter, Joyce J. Scott, among those she inspired. E.T. Scott’s works feel as fresh and relevant today as the days they were constructed, proving Scott a significant artist who was not only of her time, but whose work is timeless.
© The Artist Legacy Project & Goya Contemporary Gallery
An excerpt from a recorded conversation between Elizabeth Talford Scott's daughter Joyce J. Scott and curator Amy Eva Raehse in 2017:
AER: Can you place a finger on what was so extraordinary and remarkable about your mom and her work?
JJS: EVERYTHING! She was the best. It was her stick-to-itiveness, her incredible strength, her stubbornness, her humor, her aptitude with materials, her fortitude, and her insistence on seeking justice which gave her the ‘thang’ –you know-- the edge.
AER: She did have the 'thang'...And her sense of awe concerning the world around her never extinguished. [Pause] You once told me that as a child she would look up at the expansive sky-- which subsequently provided the only light source in the night—and she was transfixed by its beauty and its mystery, sparking her imagination and her invention. It's amazing how that sense of awe, spirituality, and reverence for nature never left her, not even after she moved to the city. She must have witnessed so many changes in her lifetime, so many technological advancements, and yet nature still captured her imagination until her final days.
JJS: Absolutely. She told her stories through those animals and made up creatures, and she told our family's stories [through her quilts]. She had an improvisational spirit and rascally ways which came through in everything...her fingers held the wisdom and sagacity of all those experiences- it bolted out of her like lightening. Do you know how rare it is to be struck by lightning?... Well, I had that thrill every day.
© 2017 Raehse/Scott