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"Quiet Terrors, Quiet Joys"

Artist Janelle Washington Cuts Deep to Reveal Strong Emotions

Through her prior career in fashion design, silhouette artist Janelle Washington was introduced to paper-cutting as a design tool. She soon realized, “I can use paper-cutting as a vehicle for my voice to come through and create things that are important to me.”

The Guild of American Paper Cutters taught her what kinds of paper and tools to use and she began experimenting. She now draws, then cuts with a craft knife and scans her work into a computer to be traced and excised in a larger format.

Her “Quiet Terrors, Quiet Joys” exhibit, which we caught at the Barns of Rose Hill in Berryville, was inspired by the book “The Boy With a Bird in His Chest,” which she read during the pandemic. It inspired her to think about her friends’ struggles with anxiety, mental illness and other emotions during their isolation. To explore those struggles, she created an anonymous survey asking people to describe how they felt in terms of a small animal or insect. The visually gripping yet somehow intimate images she created with these metaphors helped her depict what her respondents were feeling, but typically hiding from others.

 “I want people when they view this to think about themselves; what is something that maybe you've been hiding from yourself, or that you're dealing with? Consider that others may be going through the same thing and maybe you’ll have more empathy for those around you,” she said.

Her artwork is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and she made her successful debut as a picture book illustrator this past year, winning the 2023 Caldecott Honor Award for her work on Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement. She’s now working on her own picture book about how everyone in her family always ends up in the kitchen, to be published next Spring. See www.washingtoncuts.com.

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