Object of the Week: Self-Sufficient, by Lois Hennessey

Lois Hennessey (b. 1936) is a Baltimore-based artist and professor, known for whimsically anthropomorphizing animals in sculpture and illustration. At the Maryland Institute College of Art, Hennessey taught several art courses, including nature drawing. In both her teaching and work, Hennessey explores an interest in compositional concepts, such as form and space, and the interaction between her art and its surrounding environment. Her best-known work, An Unexpected Trip to the Beach, is a semi-autobiographical series of illustrated stories in which two mice explore the formal qualities of composition and color.Self-Sufficient is an indicative and much-loved example of Hennessey’s work. In the sculpture, a seated porcupine, nicknamed Willow by the artist, knits themselves into an article of clothing. Knitted material already covers one of its legs and its bottom, and Hennessey depicts the porcupine perpetually working on the next leg of the outfit. Hennessey used wooden, plastic, and metal knitting needles to represent the porcupine’s quills, which protrude from the animal’s ceramic body. The title of the piece cleverly suggests that the porcupine, needle-quilled and all, is fortunately equipped with all the materials required for survival. The multimedia nature of the sculpture facilitates a playful series of contrasts within the work. While Willow appears quiet and static when seated in the gallery, when moved by museum staff, Willow’s quills rustle against one another, mimicking the clickity-clack made by knitting needles when used by an experienced knitter. Additionally, the soft yarn Willow uses to knit its clothing is contradicted by the hardness of the porcupine’s ceramic body. The softness of the yarn may further suggest cuddliness, but Willow’s erratic and pointed quills remind the viewer of the essential prickly quality of a porcupine. Since its acquisition in 2005, Everson visitors have adored Self-Sufficient. The vibrant and mismatched quills are attention grabbing, but Hennessey’s imaginative depiction of self-sufficiency may be what resonates most with visitors. Willow is an endearing reminder to utilize the resources available to you with determination and joy. Hennessey’s cute and clever porcupine is currently on view in the exhibition The Very Mirror of Life: Ceramics at the Everson 1968-2018, through December 30, 2018.

-Maggie Teschler, Curatorial Intern

Lois Hennessey, Self-Sufficient, 2002, bisque clay, watercolor, string, wood, knitting needles, 26 x 15 x 36 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase with funds made available by the children of John Hancock in honor of his birthday, 2005.2