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Judith Whitney Godwin

Judith Whitney Godwin was born to Judith Brewer Godwin and Dr. Frank Whitney Godwin on Feb. 15, 1930. She grew from infancy to young adulthood in the homes of her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. R. L. Brewer Jr. and her parents, both homes being on West Washington Street, in Suffolk. As a young girl, Judith followed her father as he went about the work of creation of a formal garden. She participated in plant propagation, carpentry of garden structures, laying brick walkways and water pipes. The application of basic construction skills would later transfer from the garden to a physical bold palette, painted on canvas.

In 1948, Judith enrolled at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, where she enticed famed dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham to perform. Judith was mesmerized by the movement and athleticism of modern dance and the friendship and mentorship developed with Ms. Graham which followed Judith to New York in 1953 and continued for years thereafter. Ms. Graham’s encouragement and that of Judith’s father, an amateur artist and architect, were seminal influences on the young artist.

Judith made a commitment to her interest in painting by transferring to Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU) and its arts programs. Upon graduation, she moved to Greenwich Village, Manhattan, where she became a part of New York’s burgeoning international art scene. She attended the Art Students League and studied on 8 th Street and in Provincetown with Hans Hoffman. It was Hoffman who encouraged her to move to abstract expressionism, a form dominated by a male milieu, which she challenged.

The paintings of an abstract expressionist are a direct window into the mind and emotions of an artist. Her early work is bold, dark and aggressive, reflecting the battle to be noticed and appreciated in a male dominated profession. Her later work is more colorful and playful as successes mounted and relationships became more stable. Her painting is a palpable map of her life’s journey.

Judith’s work has been shown at art museums and galleries in all parts of the United States, including the Betty Parsons, Section Eleven, where she was the youngest woman to be invited to join, the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, the Anderson Gallery- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts joint exhibit and the Women of Abstract Expressionism Show which exhibited in art museums in Denver, Palms Springs and Charlotte. 

Among the museums which include her work in their permanent collection are the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Virginia Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Japanese National Museum of Art, the National Museum of Wales, the Suffolk Museum and numerous others.

Judith passed away May 29, 2021, and is survived by her nephew, Whitney Godwin Saunders (Ellen) and their children, Harrison Godwin Saunders (Rachel) and their children, Mary-Carson Brewer Saunders Stiff (Joshua) and their children and Grace Whitney Saunders. She is also survived by cousins, James C. Godwin (Ellen) and their children and Carroll Godwin Frohman and her children. Judith was predeceased by her parents, her sister, Martha Godwin Saunders (Curtis) and a nephew, Carson Brewer Saunders.

A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 12 at the Brewer-Godwin Mausoleum at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suffolk. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Judith Godwin Merit Scholarship, which benefits art students at VCU, VCUarts, 325 North Harrison Street, Richmond, Virginia 23284. R.W. Baker & Co. Funeral Home and Crematory, 509 W. Washington St. is serving the family. Condolences may be registered online at RWBakerFH.com.