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Written by Gabriela Martínez

Francie Hester ’94, who received her Master of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Maryland (UMD), hosted a group of 10 UMD art students in her studio this past November.

The students were taken to Hester’s studio as part of a “career shuttle” program organized by the College of Arts and Humanities. The purpose of the shuttle was to give students a hands-on, collaborative art experience to learn more about careers in the arts. While at the studio, they helped Hester prepare an installation called “Wordfall.”

“These shuttles expose students to career fields of interest and help them better understand their next steps,” said Kate Juhl, program director for the College of Arts and Humanities and the University Career Center. “We were excited to offer an exclusive opportunity for our fine arts students,” she said.

The installation opened this month at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and was dedicated to the son of Hester’s friend, Brendan Ogg, who passed away from brain cancer at the age of 20. The project was a collaboration between Hester and Lisa Hill, another artist and educator with whom Hester shares studio space.

Ogg was an aspiring writer and sophomore at the University of Michigan when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  While battling the illness, he created and published a collection of poetry titled “Summer Becomes Absurd.”

 Weaving together six original poems by Ogg, “Wordfall” serves as a tribute and poetic illustration of how brain cancer affected his creative process. The installation is composed of strings of papers containing text from Ogg’s poetry, tied together by paper clips. The complete installation is made up of 80,000 paperclips and 60 pounds of paper.

“We abstracted the poems so they go from dark to light,” Hester said. “It reflects his state of mind when he was confused from surgery, but then came to clarity to write poetry.”

 The art students assisted Hester by wrapping thousands of pieces of paper, containing fragments of Ogg’s poetry, around paper clips. The goal was to create curtains made up of words.

 “I’m a mechanical engineer, so I was just sitting there trying to optimize it [...] by doing an assembly line,” said Jack Chen ’16, an engineering and art double major who is interested in learning how to set up his own art studio.“You realize that, with an installation such as big as this, there must be so many people involved,” he said.  

 Hester created a community of paper wrappers by putting together kits and sending them to different people around the world. More than 300 people across 50 states and two continents wrapped paper for the installation.

 Hester also organized “wrapping groups.”

 “When you start to wrap—it’s a simple gatefold around a paperclip—you meditate and drop your guard a little bit. It’s actually kind of therapeutic… especially if you’re grieving,” Hester said.