How Judith Scott became the first artist with Down Syndrome to have her work featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art -- and then in permanent collections in New York, London, and Paris
In 1950, Judith Scott, a seven-year old girl with Down's Syndrome, became a ward of the state. She spent the next 35 years in an Ohio state institution. Her twin sister, Joyce Scott, who does not have Down's Syndrome, describes waking up one morning to find Judith simply gone. In her forthcoming book, EnTWINed: Secrets From the Silent World of Judith Scott, she tells a dark story of her mother and father retreating into depression and the aching absence of her twin. "My parents didn't know any better," she told me. "The doctors and the pastor recommended institutionalization in those days." As an adult, Joyce visited the institution when she could, but the aching absence of her twin remained.
Joyce's daughter Ilana remembers visiting Judy in the institution. "I remember cold floors, people yelling. I remember Judy just sobbing the entire time we were there," she says. The clinical records tell of how Judy "does not seem to be in good contact with her environment. She does not get along well with other children, is restless, eats messily, tears her clothing, and beats other children." The institution did not notice that Judy had acquired deafness from a bout with scarlet fever and gave her an IQ of 30.
Across the United States in the 1970s and 80s, institutions like Judy's shut down. Their Hitchcock-esque legacy, the arrival of psychotropic medications, the financial burden of their maintenance, and a new, enlightened philosophy of integration encouraged the shift. The community health centers to which patients were supposed to relocate, however, did not receive enough funding, and many became homeless. While living in Berkeley, Joyce had what she called "an epiphany," and realized that she could become Judy's legal guardian. She managed Judy's release from the institution and brought her home to live with her and her two daughters. Ilana recalled, of living with Judy: "We would just laugh and laugh and stick as many bananas as we could into our mouths."