Artist & Alumna Joyce Cutler-Shaw, ’72, Gives Back to the Library

Joyce Cutler-Shaw
Posted On: April 20, 2016

Most visitors to Geisel Library first learn about artist Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s work when viewing her intriguing calligraphic installation, Alphabet of Bones, in the Library’s Special Collections & Archives exhibition space. In creating this fascinating work, Cutler-Shaw was inspired by the hollow bones of birds—pigeons, specifically—resulting in a series of anatomically correct drawings depicting an “alphabet of bones,” consisting of 26 double characters. While many artists would leave it at that, Cutler-Shaw is not “many artists.” She went on to digitize the alphabet, and rendered it translatable into both English, and a symbolic code. Then, she copyrighted it. It is her own personal font or typeface.

A UC San Diego alumna who was a member of the university’s first MFA (Master of Fine Arts) class in 1972, Cutler-Shaw’s artistic works range from multi-media, drawings, and installations, to public projects, sculpture, and artists’ books. She has long been a supporter of the Library and the campus, and has collaborated with the Library on many exhibitions and special projects over the years. In addition, the Joyce Cutler-Shaw Papers are preserved in the Library’s Special Collections & Archives; the archive of her work comprises original writings and drawings, correspondence, project proposals, photographs, and slides, as well as audio and video recordings.

Recently, Cutler-Shaw made a generous gift to the Library of $50,000, to create the Joyce Cutler-Shaw Archives Program Fund. The funds will be used to support activities that increase access to and awareness of the artistic and creative endeavors and the themes that permeate Cutler-Shaw’s art. Of note is an exciting project to digitize the audio and visual materials in the artist’s papers, including the much admired Art & Artists Lecture Series she created from 1974 to 1982, which includes some of the original faculty of UC San Diego’s Visual Arts Department: Allan Kaprow, Eleanor and David Antin, Newton Harrison, Manny Farber, and Italo Scanga, as well as many other notable artists, including Ed Ruscha, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Denes, Robert Irwin, Christo, and James Turrell. Also included are materials from the Landmark Art Collaborative, an organization she co-founded in 1979, which integrates art, the environment, and architecture. In addition to her current gift, Cutler-Shaw is also providing additional support for the Joyce Cutler-Shaw Archives Program Fund through a matching estate gift.

“The Library’s Special Collections & Archives have long been the repository for my work, and also hold the collections of many artists and writers I admire,” said Cutler-Shaw, “So I’m very pleased to make this gift, and very happy to know that my archive of artistic works will be preserved in perpetuity at the Library of my alma mater, UC San Diego, a place and an institution I truly value.”

Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s “Alphabet of Bones”

“We are most grateful to Joyce for her friendship and support over the years and now, with her recent gifts which provide both current and future funding to increase access to her remarkable body of work,” said University Librarian Brian E. C. Schottlaender. “While we do hold the collections of many internationally known artists, writers, and scientists, it is especially gratifying for our Library to serve as the repository for a world-renowned alumna who resides locally and has deep ties with the university and San Diego communities.”

Cutler-Shaw, who has exhibited her work at a variety of local, national, and international venues, became the first American artist to be appointed as an artist-in-residence at a university medical school when she was offered the post at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine in 1995. During her residency, she produced a mixed-media, interdisciplinary work called “The Anatomy Lesson,” which reflects her ongoing interest in the body as the matrix for the human condition. In 2010, she was recognized as one of the university’s “50 at 50,” when 50 distinguished alumni were honored for their significant contributions to their communities, the nation, and the world, for UC San Diego’s 50th Anniversary. In addition to this honor, Cutler-Shaw designed the medal and stand that was given to alumni honorees.

Her art has taken on a surprising spectrum of forms—from melting iconic ice words and reflective light sculptures to intricately drawn depictions of the human form and the natural world. But, always at its core, according to Cutler-Shaw, is her use of drawing “as a way of knowing, as a mode of inquiry, as a visual language.” Her “word images” have been central motifs, informing her works from the outset, from the large iconic “SHE and HE” metal works to the carved-ice sculptures of  “SURVIVAL,” a “melting word poem.”

While the UC San Diego Library’s Special Collections & Archives is the single largest repository of Cutler-Shaw’s work, her expansive and diverse body of work is also represented in both museum and library collections throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Albertina Museum (Austria), the Klingspore Museum (Germany), the Tyler Museum (The Netherlands), the Getty Museum (Los Angeles), and the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, D.C.).