Profile: John T. Scott (1940-2007)

John T. Scott was an American sculptor, painter, printmaker and collagist.

Early life

Scott was born on a farm in Gentilly, a historic section of New Orleans, Louisiana. When he was 7 years old, his family moved to the Lower Ninth Ward. His father was a chauffeur and restaurant cook. Scott said his art training began at home where he learned embroidery from his mother.

Education and grants

After high school, he attended Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and received a Bachelor of Arts degree. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan in 1965 where he studied under painter Charles Pollock. Afterwards, he returned to Xavier where he taught for 40 years. In 1983, Scott received a grant to study under the internationally renown sculptor George Rickey. In 1995, Scott received an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Michigan State University and a Doctor of Humanities from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1997. In 1992, he was awarded the exclusive MacArthur Grant (also known as the “Genius Grant”) from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He used the money to build a larger studio.

Works and commissions

Scott is best known for creating large woodcut prints and for his African-Caribbean-New Orleans-inspired kinetic sculptures. In 2005, he was the subject of a major retrospective exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art entitled “Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott.”Scott was also commissioned to create several pieces that are placed throughout the City of New Orleans. These public works in New Orleans include Spirit Gates at the New Orleans Museum of Art and Spirit House at DeSaix Circle (at St. Bernard and Gentilly Boulevards) in the Seventh Ward and River Spirit at Woldenberg Park along the Mississippi River near the Port of New Orleans. Scott had been quoted as saying that he tried to capture the musicality of New Orleans in the colors and rhythms of his sculptures.


Scott’s work frequently displayed themes related to African-American life, particularly the rich Afro-Caribbean culture and musical heritage of New Orleans. One of the best examples of this style is his sculpture called ”Ocean Song” located in Woldenberg Park (New Orleans). Scott said the rings at the top of the sculpture represented circle dances performed by slaves who frequented Congo Square. He is also known for his use of divergent materials in constructing his art, such as cast bronze, thin brass strips of wire and bent hardwood to create provocative sculptures.

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