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 Sylvia Shaw Judson Haskins  (1897 - 1978)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/New York      Known for: public park figure and animal sculpture, art deco building decoration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Sylvia Shaw Judson, the daughter of a writer and an architect, was born in 1897 in Lake Forest, Illinois, near Chicago.  She studied with Antoine Bourdelle and Albin Polasek.  Judson had work exhibited at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina; the White House, Washington, D.C.; and the National Academy of Design, New York City.  In 1926, she was awarded an honorable mention at the Chicago Art Club.  She won the Logan Prize in 1929.  Kosciusko Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the site of her Belle Austin Jacobs Memorial.  Other Judson sculptures may be found at the White House, and in the offices of the President of the Philippines.

She was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1948, and Academician in 1965.  A writer as well as sculptor, Judson authored The Quiet Eye: A Way of Looking at Pictures, published by Regnery Gateway in 1982.  The title is taken from a poem by Frances Shaw, the author's mother.  The book, combining paintings with poetic, insightful sayings, was an apparent attempt to convince her Quaker brethren that art is important, moving and enlightening.  In her introduction, Judson wrote, "Anything that can add so immeasurably to our awareness and brings us deeper intuitions is surely worthy of our serious attention."

Judson's sculpture of Quaker martyr Mary Dryer sits on the Massachusetts State House lawn in Boston, with copies in Richmond, Indiana at Earlham College, a Quaker Liberal Arts Institution, and in Philadelphia at the (Quaker) Friends General Conference Center on Race Street.  Mary Dryer was hanged in 1660 for refusing to deny her faith and obey anti-Quaker edicts banishing Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The seated sculpture, simple and direct in form like Bird Girl, with a quiet grandeur and calm, was erected in 1959.  The Philadelphia sculpture of Mary Dryer is said to be the only sculpture of a woman by a female artist in that city.

Bird Girl, a sculpture by Sylvia Shaw Judson, brought this sculptor much posthumous attention in the late 1990s, when it appeared on the cover of the best-selling novel by John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  It also appeared in the opening scene of the movie with the same title.  Many found it ironic that a Quaker artist's bronze sculpture, standing in relative obscurity in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia for many, many years, should be famous today because of a book and movie about a murder.

Commissioned originally for the garden of a Massachusetts family (and now in the Ryerson Conservation Area, Deerfield, Illinois), only three casts were made of the Bird Girl sculpture because Judson did not want to diminish the value of the work through over-reproduction.  One piece belongs to a family in Lake Forest, Illinois. Another was purchased for a Washington, D.C. garden and later moved to Reading, Pennsylvania.  And the third was purchased by Lucy Boyd Trosdal of Savannah.  It is this version that served as a monument at the Trosdal family gravesite in Bonaventure Cemetery.

Sculpted in a simple, columnar form like a Greek temple statue, the Bird Girl, with sadly-demure, quizzically-tilted head and shallow platters in each hand extended at her side, stood in the cemetery amid live oak trees draped in Spanish moss.  After all of the publicity, so many people came to see the statue, disturbing the sanctity of the area, that it was donated by the Trosdal family to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in Savannah, where it can be seen today.

A fiberglass model of the sculpture was used in the 1997 movie directed by Clint Eastwood.  Judson gave the original plaster model of Bird Girl to the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois.

Sylvia Shaw Judson died in 1978.

Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century

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