Using the Beauty of Beads to Raise Issues Such as Violence and Racism


IN THE HANDS of Joyce J. Scott, the possibilities of glass beads are endless. She uses beads to tell stories, raise challenging social and political issues, and celebrate her mother. A quilt artist, Elizabeth Talford Scott (1916-2011), taught her daughter to sew with beads when she was five years old.

Scott’s early exposure was enduring. Over a five-decade career, she developed a unique, bead-based art practice. Many of Scott’s imaginative works are made solely with beads and thread. Others are elaborate mixed-media works combining beads with blown glass, found objects, fabric and a variety of other materials including photographs, bone, wood, and clay. She’s ventured into printmaking, installation, and performance, but primarily concentrates on multilayered bead works in the form of jewelry, wall hangings, and figurative sculpture.

Her greatest recognition has come in recent years. On view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York, “Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott” (2014-15) was organized by Lowery Stokes Sims, who was then chief curator at MAD. Scott was named a MacArthur “genius” Fellow in 2016. Her largest and most ambitious exhibition to date, “Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths,” was presented at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., earlier this year.

The expansive survey, co-curated by Sims and Patterson Sims, featured 60 works made from 1970 to 2017. A special installation and commissioned outdoor sculptures paying tribute to Harriet Tubman were included in the show, in addition to a series of textile works made by Scott and her mother. The catalog published to accompany “Harriet Tubman and Other Truths” is the most comprehensive volume to date documenting Scott’s artwork.

Peter Blum Gallery in New York is hosting Scott’s latest exhibition. About 20 of her beaded sculptures are displayed on white pedestals throughout the gallery. Wandering among the works replicates a journey through her oeuvre. The exhibition, “What Next and Why Not,” features works made since 2000. They exemplify her practice, bridging the gap between craft and contemporary sculpture.

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