Joyce Cutler Shaw ---- Part 1 of artist’s ‘Library Duet’ opens at La Jolla Athenaeum, Sept. 22

Born in Detroit and raised in New York City, multimedia artist Joyce Cutler-Shaw is best known for her drawings, artist’s books and installations. Since 1959, when her husband first came here on business and didn’t want to leave, she has made a life in La Jolla and shown her work around the world.

She is now about to have a two-part retrospective — a “Library Duet” — at two local venues that have been very important to her: the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and UC San Diego’s Geisel Library.

The Athenaeum will begin the Duet on Sept. 22 with an exhibition of Cutler-Shaw’s artist’s books, including slide-out, large-format, and accordion-fold books, several of which were part of her last solo show there, “What Comes to Mind,” in 2013.

“Joyce has been a constant at the Athenaeum for a long time,” said Erika Torri, the Athenaeum executive director. “Early on, she concentrated on artist’s books and we have 122 of them in our permanent collection, the largest collection anywhere. She is extremely prolific and talented in many different ways and we are proud to be part of her creative legacy.”

Of her work, Cutler-Shaw has written: “My subjects are human identity and the natural world. My themes are evolution, survival and transformation ... Drawing is at the heart of my work — drawing as a way of knowing, as a mode of inquiry, as a visual language.”

In 1969, when UCSD started a graduate program in Visual Arts, she rushed to enroll, receiving her MFA in 1972. Fascinated with anatomy, she became artist-in-residence at UCSD School of Medicine, a position she created and held from 1992 to 2017. During her residency she produced “The Anatomy Lesson,” a series of drawings that explore the human body in compassionate detail. In 2010, she was one of 50 distinguished alumni honored on the University’s 50th anniversary for contributions to their communities and the world.

Cutler-Shaw’s original “Alphabet of Bones,” an original calligraphy inspired by the leg bones of messenger pigeons, is permanently on display at the Geisel Library, where Part 2 of the Library Duet will open Oct. 5. The exhibit will focus on her “Brain Project,” which features brain scans and handwriting samples that show her increasing deterioration since being diagnosed with Corticobasal Syndrome, a rare neurological disease that has affected her verbal and motor skills.

She can’t draw anymore, but continues to work on her archives — decades of writings, drawings, photos, project proposals and audio/video recordings preserved in the Library’s Special Collections. “I’m amazed at everything I’ve done,” she said.

Last year, her MFA classmate, photographer Becky Cohen, created an award-winning 30-minute documentary “She is Fierce: The Art of Joyce Cutler-Shaw” for UCSD-TV. Read about it on, watch it on YouTube, and don’t miss the “Library Duet,” beginning with the opening reception at the Athenaeum on Sept. 22.

IF YOU GO: Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s “Library Duet” will be on exhibit Sept. 23-Nov. 4. at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St. Opening reception 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, (858) 454-5872,

UCSD Geisel Library portion of the exhibit runs Oct. 5-27 on UCSD campus. Reception: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5. (858) 534-2533.