New art exhibit opening at the James

WICKED – A new art exhibit opening at the James Library & Center for the Arts this week represents one artist’s reflections on femininity and her New England childhood.

“I’m really interested in childhood and memory and the home, especially the childhood home and the way that you remember it. And also the way the body interacts with space,” said Hanna Washburn, a native of Wellesley whose first solo exhibit, “Homebody,” opens at the James this Friday.

The exhibit consists of sculptures constructed from fabrics and other materials that Washburn compiled from family, friends and, mostly, from her own childhood and teenage years.

The fabrics are held up by reclaimed furniture and filled with polyester stuffing to create sculptures that appear mostly soft to the touch, with bulging curves of whimsically patterned fabrics and denim.

None of the sculptures are literally human forms, but some of them are vaguely anthropomorphic. Washburn said some of the pieces are meant to invoke maternal, youthful or sexual notions.

And the messy, conflicting patchworks she’s created represent different expectation placed on the female form and femininity, she said.

“So I think there’s all this sort of different associations we have with femininity. They can contradict each other, and they clash,” she said. “They can make things buckle and lump and be disorderly.”

A detail of Lay All Your Love On Me by Hanna Washburn

The exhibit’s title is a reference to her habit of referring to her creations as her “homebodies,” but also a link to what Washburn describes as the “feminine notion” of living and working in the home. The pieces, all created from recycled materials, reference the idea of “women’s work” and the tradition of mothers and wives cleverly repurposing items around their home, she said.

There are clothes she wore as a teenager, and napkins and handkerchiefs passed down to her from her great-grandmother, and clothes given to her by her mother and close female cousin. Some of the furniture was in her family’s house growing up.

“To me, the act of taking that thing that’s an artifact from my childhood and covering it up and painting it and having it have this new form but still having it be derived from an element of my childhood, I just think it’s powerful,” she said. “My work is about the act of covering and uncovering.”

And since the soft, feminine colors and patterns used in the sculptures mirror the aesthetic that Washburn was surrounded by as a child.

“The aesthetic of my upbringing was very typically new England,” she said. “It was very modest. There was a lot of Laura Ashley. There were a lot of floral, muted colors.”

Washburn now lives in upstate New York, but said the James is the perfect place for her exhibit because of libraries’ connection to childhood.

“To be able to have this show in Massachusetts, near where I grew up, in the James which is such a wonderful, historical space… to me, that’s really exciting,” she said.

“Homebody” will be on display at the James Library & Center for the Arts from Dec. 13 to Jan 25. There will be an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13, at the James, 24 West St, Norwell. For more information, go to

By Audrey Cooney

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