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Artist Creates Unique Bead Sculptures on Social Injustices

  • Deborah Block

Renowned American bead artist Joyce Scott is creating a piece of art one bead at a time.

Scott finds beading relaxing, as she sits at a table with a dish of beads in an array of colors.

“Beadwork is a very calming, meditative form,” she said, as she puts a small royal blue bead on a needle and thread at her home studio in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scott said her mind is constantly going in many directions, and her studio and artwork reflect both. The studio is packed with a hodgepodge of beads of various shapes, sizes, materials and colors. There are half finished projects on tables and the floor, along other materials like metal, glass, buttons and photos she incorporates into her artwork.

“My style is improvisational, and I'm so antsy and itchy that I won't allow myself to be locked into one form for very long,” she explained.

A flair for the dramatic

The artist is especially known for multidimensional bead sculptures of human figures, as well as necklaces and wall hangings. Her pieces often highlight racism, sexism and stereotypes and reflect her flair for the dramatic.

Among her current projects is a wall hanging on Harriet Tubman, an African-American abolitionist who helped free slaves. The exquisite beadwork contains a variety of figures, highlighted by a beading pattern that appears to flow from day to night.

Scott is using a peyote stitch she learned from a Native American.

“I really like the idea that I can defy the conventions of making really, really large work with the peyote stitch, and it being something that I am building as I go along.”

No advance planning

Scott said she doesn't plan her designs in advance, but rather goes where her feelings tell her to go. That includes putting a lighter skinned doll into a crimson, glass bottle to symbolize her dislike of skin bleaching.

“Around the world, may times people who are brown and black use bleach on the skin to lighten themselves,” she explained, “because they're told that it's more beautiful, or it's more beneficial when you go get a job, or you're more attractive to that guy you want.”

Drawing inspiration from countries she has visited, Scott showed another glass art piece in progress this one focusing on the difficulties of indigenous people under colonization.

“This is about a trip of someone who is taking those routes,” she said, as she pointed out bead patterns in the shape of Africa and also Central and South America, “and who he sees on the road.”

Selected as MacArthur Fellow

Scott has drawn numerous accolades and her pieces are in museum collections around the world. Last year, she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow for exceptionally talented individuals, with a stipend of $625,000 to use anyway she wants.

Despite the recognition, however, the 68-year-old artist, whose mother began teaching her beading at the age of 5, said she wants to continue what she considers to be her “adventure.”

“I keep learning new things. I invent new things. I play with new things,” she said, as she threads a red bead.

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