Baltimost: Judy Tallwing, artist

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Credit: Jay Dahm

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Judy Tallwing, 74, is an artist.

In her words: “Sometimes the ideas for my paintings come to me in a dream. I work with oils, so it’s not unusual for me to have five or six paintings going at once. I have a thing about starting paintings and not wanting to wait for them to dry. 

My grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all warriors. My grandfather swore he would never live where there was a white government. He set up an encampment on land in Arizona, which is where I lived with my mother, three uncles and two aunts. My dad was Apache. He came in, made me, then he was gone. 

We hauled water in big drums, and my grandmother would cook over an open fire. There were always beans, fry bread and coffee on the fire. In the middle would be a big elk or pig. 

My grandfather didn’t want me near white people, but my mother said I had to learn to live in the white world. She sent me to a one-room schoolhouse; we were the only native family there. 

My grandmother and mother always did art. My grandmother did carvings and my mom painted. We put our stuff out on blankets by the side of the road to sell. My first painting sold when I was 3. I got into my mother’s paint and painted a flat rock with a bee sitting on a flower. She put it on her blanket and it sold for 25 cents. 

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. I had my own construction company. I ran an animal shelter and a domestic violence program in Washington state. I’ve been very active in the feminist movement. In 1977, I was a delegate at the National Women’s Conference in Houston. 

I came to Baltimore in 2007 to visit my friend Morgan Monceaux, a Baltimore-based artist who died in 2017. I visited Morgan and said I’ll stay two weeks and we’ll paint together. I never left. 

He wanted me to show my work and connected me with his agent. I showed her the paintings. The smallest was 6 feet by 5 feet. She looked at them and said, “Judy, these are magical.” I had three pieces, and she wanted me to make a fourth in two weeks. That was hard for me because most of my paintings take years. But I did it. 

I don’t paint for money, I paint for the medicine. My grandmother would tell me, “Make good medicine,” and that’s what I try to do.

For a long time, I had two items on my bucket list: paint on a street corner in Paris, and eat lobster in Maine until I pop. Now I’ve done both. Thanks to Rebecca Hoffberger at the American Visionary Art Museum, I was a house artist for Halle St. Pierre in Paris. 

One thing I love about Baltimore is the throne made out of bottle caps on the second floor of the American Visionary Arts Museum. I have been in a lot of museums in my life, and I’ve never been in one like the AVAM. Usually, there’s a distance to the art, but not at AVAM. The first time I went, I felt an instant connection. All the art there is done for the people’s spirit. 

Within a year of my first visit, I was showing my art in that museum.”

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