Hannah O’Hare Bennett, MFA Candidate
Hannah O’Hare Bennett remembers the day Textiles & Fabric Design Professor and Coordinator Jenny Angus sent her the news she’d been awarded a fellowship to attend SoHE’s MFA program in Design Studies. “I was just so happy,” Bennett says. “It’s so flattering and such a surprise. And it made it much easier to leave my job and start a new life here.”
Artist in the Field
After earning a BFA in printmaking from the University of Kansas, Hannah had spent some fifteen years building a career in sustainable agriculture, first with the Peace Corps in Ecuador and later in Minneapolis working in urban agriculture initiatives.
Still, Hannah says she had never abandoned her identity as an artist. And now she realizes that her professional past only enhances her graduate experience. “I’m actually glad I am an older graduate student because I have these things to draw on, I have content.”
While Hannah’s initial intent was to focus her MFA on the production and use of natural dyes, her first year of coursework introduced her to new ways to work with plants through papermaking and weaving. “I started seeing possibilities in materials all over the place that a lot of times are free,” she says. “Now I feel this sense of abundance, at least in terms of my materials.”
Experiences and Exploration at UW-Madison
Taking advantage of new experiences is something she’d advise any new student to embrace. “Even if you know what you want to do, take a couple courses you don’t know about or know if you’re good at. That’s what I love about SoHe, it’s so flexible,” she says of the opportunities the program afforded her.
In fact, it was an elective course in ethnobotany that led Hannah to an entirely new focus for her studies: the domestication of plant species. “There are so many layers to it,” she says. “And I happen to be in SoHE which is all about domestic life. So I’m coming up with ways of relating [this] in my work. I’m really excited about it.”
Hannah has continued to explore new opportunities on campus. For one, “the libraries are incredible,” she says. And a phone call to the Art Department early last summer resulted in “Pollen: The Work of Summer,” a solo exhibition at the UW-Madison Art Lofts Gallery. “It’s an experimental show, not a huge high pressure show just something I’m doing to see how it will work. I’ll take photos of it and start applying for other shows,” explains Hannah. Images from her exhibition can be see below.
Finally, a job teaching art in UW-Madison’s summer continuing education programs [PEOPLE program and Grandparents University] has allowed her to share her appreciation for plant life and the natural world with students of all ages, from middle-school kids to grandparents
“In a way I’ve gone back to my roots,” Hannah says of her graduate studies. “A lot of my work is inspired by plants and I love working with my hands. I can’t get away from that. It’s just who I am.”
Images from Hannah’s Art Lofts exhibition, “Pollen: The Work of Summer,” August 6-11, 2016
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