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Art exhibition seeks to spark conversation about homelessness

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | October 23, 2022 12:00 AM

Artist Jessy Hanson’s exhibition asks a lot of the viewer.

It asks you to consider the unhoused and their story. It asks you to consider whether they might be your neighbor or your friend.

Ultimately, it asks you to consider what is home?

Featuring sketches paired with painted panels depicting the hands and feet of homeless individuals, the goal of the exhibition is to take thought and reflection, turning it into conversation. The idea is to bridge the gap between what Hanson says is comfortable and uncomfortable by considering circumstances that can find someone without the basic necessity of a home.

“I want this to be the vehicle that helps us start to have a conversation,” she said while standing amongst her artwork hanging on painted white brick walls. “I chose hands and feet because I’ve always felt uneasy with the idea of seeing the faces of the people living on the streets being used to speak about homelessness because this is just a temporary part of their story. Showing their hands and feet shows all of the emotion and struggle without the exploitation.”

The popup art exhibit titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” is on display in Kalispell at the old Kalispell Malting and Brewing Company building on Sixth Avenue West.

Black and white charcoal sketches on cardboard hang alongside colorful acrylic paintings showing very similar interpretations of the same pair of hands and feet of each individual. Hanson selected cardboard because she says it's a material often associated with homeless individuals but also because it represents the temporary. The paintings on wood panels have a more permanent feeling, but still some areas of the art were left without color or fine details as a way to show the individual’s journey remains unfinished.

The dichotomy of black and white and color together is intentional. The color provides the opportunity to create a lighter feeling following the heaviness of the black and white drawing, Hanson says.

Both of the pieces in each pairing reveal the intimate details of the person, depicting the joints, veins, calluses and scars marking the hands and feet.

“There is anonymity with the hands and feet, but they also tell the story of a life lived,” she said.

SPENDING THE summer interviewing members of the local homeless population Hanson listened to their stories while taking reference photos to later create the artwork. As models, the individuals were compensated for their time.

Capturing their journey, Hanson wrote short passages that accompany each grouping of art as a way to learn more about the people who inspired it. It also provides the vehicle for sharing how many came to be without a home while revealing how much hope many have for the future.

“I had an ordinary life, just like everyone else but sometimes things change and sometimes it’s out of my control,” one individual said.

“I have lived and adventured my way across the world, working any job, meeting all types of people, living my life to the fullest,” says another. “Whenever I need something, I always find work and I always have enough.”

After the interviews, Hanson would write down their story immediately, but then sit with what they had said for a time before creating. Often the words were heavy making it necessary for her to process what she heard. But she was also struck by how many conversations had laughter and light-hearted moments, too.

“They all had so much gratitude for life,” she said. “Many of them said they knew they’d be OK and were thankful for the kindness that had been shown to them. They all taught me about having gratitude.”

As she would create, Hanson would reflect on the people behind the art. There were bits and pieces of their stories that she found herself recalling. One woman, in particular, stuck with her.

“She was having a rough day and feeling defeated,” Hanson recalled. “I sat with her and as we chatted I could see her begin to relax. I realized that our conversation was giving her some reprieve from her day. We were able to make jokes and I could see the weight lift off her shoulders.”

THE SUBJECT of homelessness is deeply personal to Hanson. She spent time in high school living in her car because of what she describes as a tumultuous household.

“Nobody around me knew,” she said. “I didn’t think of myself as homeless or someone that needed a shelter or resources. But this work has really helped me process my past and realize that I want there to be hope out there for people and for them to have options.”

By sharing her story and others through the artwork, Hanson hopes the conversation will turn to what can be done to assist homeless individuals.

“The most meaningful work that I’ve done is what has stirred conversations,” she said. “I want to create a sense of community to have people look at these stories and then say they want to help. I want to start the conversation about how we can take care of the homeless population.”

The project is funded by the Montana Arts Council. A portion of the proceeds from the art sales will be donated to the Samaritan House, Flathead Warming Center and Sparrows Nest of Northwest Montana.

After examining the exhibition, visitors are asked to answer, by writing on a piece of cardboard, what is the home they carry? Many answers speak of loved ones and pets.

Hanson says about half the time people are able to answer the question right away and others say they need time to reflect upon their answer.

“All of us are seeking the comfort of home, both tangible and intangible,” she said. “Home is truly a nuanced word.”

“The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused'' is available by appointment only through Oct. 27. Appointments can be made at arrowleafcreative.com.

A closing reception for the exhibit is set for Friday, Oct. 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. It will include a dance piece performance, artist talks and light refreshments.

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.

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A selection of Jessy Hanson's pieces in her art exhibition titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” in Kalispell on Wednesday, Oct. 19. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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A cardboard sheet where attendees can write their answer to the question "What is the home you carry?" at Jessy Hanson's art exhibition titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” in Kalispell on Wednesday, Oct. 19. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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One of Jessy Hanson's pieces in her art exhibition titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” in Kalispell on Wednesday, Oct. 19. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Detail of one of Jessy Hanson's pieces on cardboard in her art exhibition titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” in Kalispell on Wednesday, Oct. 19. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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A selection of Jessy Hanson's pieces in her art exhibition titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” in Kalispell on Wednesday, Oct. 19. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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A pair of Jessy Hanson's pieces in her art exhibition titled “The Home We Carry: A Visual Anthology of the Unhoused” in Kalispell on Wednesday, Oct. 19. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)