Student remembers history through art

By By Jaime Winston

By Jaime Winston

It all started when her boyfriend’s cat passed away.

Whitney Shaw, a senior in graphic design, wanted to keep Snowy Owl’s memory alive, so she painted the cat’s image onto a piece of wood.

“It was a very little painting on a piece of wood, which I had asked my boyfriend to cut down for me when (the cat) was sick,” Shaw said.

She later decided to make eight more prints of lost companions that had belonged to family and friends.

The set includes Brandy, a horse her father owned when he was young, and Katchi, a dog once owned by Marnie Powers-Torrey, the studio manager for the U Book Arts Program. Shaw used photographs of the animals as a source and then etched the image into scratch film before making the prints.

Shaw also makes prints using fruit to symbolize women in myths as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. She will display the prints at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 3 in the Union.

The mythological stories Shaw is representing in the prints differ in national origin, including the biblical Eve and the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Her favorite is a Japanese tale about Kishimojin, who devoured children until she was cured of her evil habit by Buddha, who gave her a pomegranate. She is also representing Cavillaca in her prints, a goddess of Peruvian myth, who became pregnant when the moon god fashioned his sperm into a fruit.

Cavillaca’s pregnancy is related to the overall theme Shaw finds in the stories.

“I think it’s a fertility thing,” she said. “Fruits are a symbol of fertility, and trees bear fruit similar with how women bear children.”

Shaw drew a tree connecting the stories. Hands branch off of the tree, offering the mythological fruit to one another. In the future, Shaw wants to create a book with the myths and the images she created for them.

“A lot of (the women in other myths) came off as negative, like the women were tricking someone or doing something wrong,” Shaw said.

A story she is using to break this trend is of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, who, according to Greek mythology, gave the olive tree as a gift to the Greeks.

Unlike the Greeks reception of Athena’s olive tree, Shaw said that her inspirations aren’t always a gift.

“People tend to think of inspiration as this great lightning bolt of a thing,” she said. “It’s much more mundane than that. It’s a reaction to everything I take in.”

Shaw said her print of Snowy Owl draws the most mixed reactions.

“They are supposed to be kind of silly,” Shaw said. “But I think that they are serious at the same time.”

She noticed in art, saints are often depicted with specific symbols. Barbed wire was used as a symbol on Brandy’s card, since she was once caught in a barbed-wire fence. Powers-Torrey’s dog was depicted with hot-air balloons and a magpie, his favorite things to chase.

“For the dead pet cards, she came in knowing exactly what she wanted to achieve and pushed and pulled a bit as the project moved along but was pretty firm in her decision making and printed it exquisitely,” Powers-Torrey said.

Shaw started the project in September and finished it earlier this year.

“The pet one was really fun because you get such a reaction out of people,” she said. “I think it’s something everyone can kind of relate to, who has had a pet.”

Shaw has had several gerbils and fish of her own pass away, and her family’s cat died a year ago. She has a Siberian husky that is getting older and might soon pass away as well.

“You invest so much into a pet. There’s a real attachment,” Shaw said. “You get to know them so well, and they get to know you well too, but they are destined to go long before you do.”

By working on the project, she learned about the strong connections people had with the pets she used in her art.

She considered becoming an illustration major but said she fell in love with the graphic design program. “I think art is a way to make sense of everything and to understand,” Shaw said. “Design can be so powerful if you can communicate an idea clearly, but it could also be very subtle.”

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