Joyce with Erika Torri after receiving the UCSD Geisel Library Citation for her philanthropy last fall
It’s with great sadness that Public Address has lost our friend and colleague, Joyce Cutler-Shaw, who passed on March 19, 2018. There will be a celebration of her life in 4 to 6 weeks. Following are remembrances of Joyce by two of our members.
Ruth Wallen writes, “It is with great sadness that I share with all of you that Joyce passed away yesterday. Joyce was one of the initial members of the ecoart dialogue, having been on the panel from which the dialogue was formed. Joyce was a very active public artist in San Diego. Her early work included an alphabet of bird bones and many works with pigeons as messengers. She almost always wore a bone on a necklace around her neck. Among her big public projects her large sculptures of sycamores and grasses for a new branch library along the San Diego River, and Orbital Loops at the Count building.
She was a vital member of the local San Diego community. This fall she was recognized for her philanthropy for the UCSD library. For many years she sponsored a series of lectures on art and architecture at the local Athenaeum music and art library, in which some of us from this list participated. In fact I think she’s donated money for this series to continue. She generally hosted dinners at her La Jolla home, with a wonderful view of the ocean, afterwards. Every year she sent out a holiday card with wonderful drawings and updates about her and her husband’s activities. “Work, work” was a constant theme, even in the last year of her life.
Much of her work centered around the human body. For many years she was artist in residence at the UCSD medical school, where she also taught drawing to med students. She was also a member of Public Address, a local group of public artists that is planning a big exhibit this fall.
Her most recent work concerned her illness that began to manifest about two and a half years ago. I’m sorry that I can’t recall the name of the disease. It is somewhat similar to Parkison’s but more severe. Early symptoms were that it effected her speech and her hands, so that she could no longer draw. Gradually it also effected her balance and ability to walk. Joyce was very tenacious and courageous. Slowly she would carefully pronounce the name of her illness, and in very straightforward terms describe the symptoms. Always working on a new project, she was determined to keep making artwork documenting the disease’s progress. When she was first diagnosed, she was told that typically people live for about four years after diagnosis. I never expected she would pass so soon. She will be missed.
Life is precious.” http://www.joycecutlershaw.com/home/
Larry Kline writes, “The arts lost a visionary this week. As I worked on a new set of drawings, I found myself listening to “She is Fierce,” a wonderful video by Becky Cohen. In this documentary, Joyce Cutler Shaw is, as always, hard at work, creating in the studio and planning for new exhibitions. This could be a portrait of any artist at work, or at least any artist with ambition, drive and determination, but one quickly becomes engrossed in her story as she strove to create remain a creative force despite her struggle with Corticobasal syndrome. She was rarely at a loss for words, though the disease slowed her once frenetic speech patterns to one more deliberate and concentrated. This neurological disorder also profoundly affected her motor skills though even in her later years it was hard to keep up with her once on the move. She took her struggle with balance in stride, resolute to the fact that she would continue to move forward though her body may occasionally disagree. The result was that she fell frequently, and Debby and I both witnessed falls that would have brought a “healthy“ person to tears (and perhaps an emergency room.) With a helping hand she would simply shrug it off as an inconvenience of life, regain her composure and push ahead. We were with her at her last exhibition at the Athenaeum. When she found the crowds overwhelming, she was escorted into the glass walled conference room, where she held court for well over an hour as friends, well-wishers and fans lined up to share a few words with her and show her their love and respect. When she signed our catalog, though she struggled to make the marks so familiar to to her, she persevered. Her signature showed a gradual transformation which bore an eerie resemblance to the Alphabet of Bones typeface that she had developed some years back. One of the exercises that she regularly assigned to medical students was to have them sign their names repeatedly on a piece of paper until it was completely filled. These became insightful self-portraits as her own showed that she was indomitable. The changes in her signature followed the dominant themes of her work throughout the years; survival, evolution and transformation.
In concert with her career as an artist, Joyce was a force for change in the community and she and Jerry gave generously to countless institutions in San Diego and beyond. We ourselves are direct beneficiaries of these gifts. We were privileged to be able to work with her directly over the last few years as she trained us to take over her course Drawing as a Way of Seeing, which she developed for UCSD School of Medicine. One of our proudest accomplishments was to have been named the Joyce Cutler Shaw Artists-in-Residence at the medical school where we will do our best to continue her legacy. Her presence will be greatly missed.”