Elizabeth Scott grew up in Chester, South Carolina, the sixth of fourteen children. There were seven brothers and seven sisters. Her father sharecropped the land where her grandparents had lived as slaves. "He was a sharecropper and we were sharecroopper's children. Victims," she says. The tradition of quilting was an integral part of the rural black American experience. Elizabeth's mother and father quilted. At the age of nine, she began her first quilt and has since developed into an extraordinary artist. Her images not only ellicit rememberances of Africans' past but evoke new visual traditions in the display of bright colors, complex pattern, animals, buttons, rocks, and "monsters" that grace the stitched surface of her quilts.
Elizabeth Scott provides the annals of history with a critical challenge to address the aesthetic contributions of blacks in the New World. More importantly, she presents us with the aesthetic continuity of deep-seated traditions, practiced over generations of time through the linkage of the extended family. We have few records of the African-American families who had active and continuous histories of involvement in the plastic arts; the creative energies of Scott and her family have prevailed where others have yet to be discovered.
Scott practiced her art until 1940, when she moved to Baltimore and ceased to make quilts on a regular basis. Through the constant encouragement of her daughter and her friends, Scott began to quilt again in the mid-1970s. She developed a remarkable body of work and began to exhibit her quilts in conjunction with the work of her daughter, Joyce Jane Scott, a mixed media-performance artist, at Gallery 409 in Baltimore and the Art Gallery of the University of Maryland at College Park. Scott worked relentlessly, and as she produced more quilts, she was invited to teach and lecture at colleges, universities, recreation centers, special workshops, and senior citizens' groups throughout the state of Maryland. She was asked to exhibit and lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Smithsonian Instutition's Folk Life, Festival, as well as at numerous galleries along the east coast from New York City to Washington, DC.
Scott worked intermittently on that first quilt, begun at the age of nine, for fifty years–hence its title, the Fifty Year Quilt. Her mother, Mamie, took an active interest in Scott's selection of cloths and colors; at one point, Scott recalls, her mother made her remove a square from the lower right corner because it was too bright. The Fifty Year Quilt is embellished with embroidery and stitchery that form images and symbols of flowers, stars, and animals.
The Plantation Quilt, one of a new series completed in 1979, is conceived from a double perspective. The stars, which are placed almost randomly across the surface, approximate their positions in the sky on a clear evening, just as they might have been seen by women who sat out on their porches sewing and piecing after a long, hard day of work. The stitches under the star pattern take on the contours of a farm, with rows of stitching standing in for the rows of crops. "That's the way the fields were surveyed off," Scott explains. "Every corner had to be filled. There were no leavings, no spots in the field. The fields had to be finished."
-excerpted from the WCA Honor Awards Program of the National Women's Caucus for Art Conference, Boston, MA, February 10-13, 1987