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Haskins, Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897-1978) | Lake Forest College Archives and Special Collections

Name: Haskins, Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897-1978)
Variant Name: Judson, Sylvia Shaw; Mrs. Clay Judson; Mrs. Sidney Haskins


Historical Note:

Sylvia Shaw Judson was the second of three daughters of Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, 1869-1926, and poet Frances Wells Shaw (1872-1937).  Encouraged by her father and by the example of her paternal grandmother, painter Sarah Van Doren Shaw, Sylvia Shaw studied art and became a sculptor. 

Sylvia Shaw studied at the Art Institute of Chicago with Albin Polacek, and in Paris with Bourdelle. She began creating garden sculptures professionally in the 1920s, using her daughter Alice (b. 1922) as a model -- as her grandmother had used her.  Her works of this type are found in the Rose Garden of the white House and in Brookgreen Gardens, SC. 

One of these too was in a Savannah, GA cemetery, the Bird Girl.  This became an iconic symbol of the city after the 1994 John Berendt novel  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published and then made into a 1997 film.  The sculpture was moved indoors then.  One of four original castings of this famous sculpture is at Ryerson Woods, Riverwoods, IL.  A subsequent copy is at Ragdale, the artists' community created out of her father's and her family home in Lake Forest. 

Her work also included public commissions, such as a fountain at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo and a 1950s statue of Quaker martyr Mary Dyer in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse on Boston Common. 

She wrote two significant books, The Quiet Eye (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954; reprint 1982) and For Gardens and Other Places: the Sculpture of Sylvia Shaw Judson (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1966).

Garden sculpture was a popular elite medium in the early 20th C. during the vogue for formal gardens.  Sylvia's work, cast and in stone, reflected this often whimsical genre's interest in children in the garden, small animals, and other representational garden subjects of the sort found at Brookgreen Gardens and earlier on many Lake forest area estates.  Later her work became more simplified and even abstracted, in tune with major trends in her field, though her work often was conservatively accessible.  She followed new expressions in European art. 

In subject matter her work reflected the Quaker values and pacifism she embraced by the 1940s, quietly commenting on events of her times.  Thus, she has some useful, simple chicken lamp bases in use at her home Ragdale from the wartime period when they raised food at Ragdale (her home by 1942).  The unglazed ceramic chickens are looking down at he ground for grain to eat and recall the Bruegel painting of Icarus falling to the ground while a farmer plows his field, his eye on the ground.  W.H. Auden also rote a poem on the painting in the period.  This same spirit is found in the two lambs sculpture (stone) in the circle in front of the 1898 Ragdale house, an image of new life continuing as the world is bent on destruction in World War Ii and in the cold War that followed.  Finally, her Mary Dyer, a portrait of a woman martyred for her religious ideas in Puritan-ruled colonial Boston, and dating from the mid 1950s is a subtle commentary for tolerance in the era of MacCarthyism and blacklisting in a time of rabid anti-Communist hysteria.  A smaller version too is at Quaker-related Earlham College, Richmond, IN.

Sources:

Hayes, Alice and Susan Moon.  Ragdale: A History and Guide.  Berkeley, CA and Lake Forest, IL: Open Books and the Ragdale Foundation, 1990. 

Judson, Sylvia Shaw (Haskins).  For Gardens and Other Places: The Sculpture of Sylvia Shaw Judson.  Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1966. 

________.  The Quiet Eye.  Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954 (reprint, 1982).

Sources:

Hayes, Alice and Susan Moon.  Ragdale: A History and Guide.  Berkeley, CA and Lake Forest, IL: Open Books and the Ragdale Foundation, 1990. 

Judson, Sylvia Shaw (Haskins).  For Gardens and Other Places: The Sculpture of Sylvia Shaw Judson.  Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1966. 

________.  The Quiet Eye.  Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954 (reprint, 1982).

Note Author: Arthur H. Miller, Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections, amiller@lakeforest.edu





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