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Unveiling the Unspoken

Carrie Yang ’27

Apr 10, 2024

Artwork by art teacher Sarah O’Leary '17, familiar face within the Mercersburg Academy community, is currently on display in Mercersburg Academy’s Burgin Center for the Arts. "All the things I never said out loud" features acrylic paintings accompanied by a complementary vessel along with a title representing a brief quotation from O’Leary. The pieces are essentially mixed media, combining acrylic paint, gold leaf, fabric, and ceramics.

Each quotation represents a thought left unspoken. “Most of us are either too frightened or too guarded to convey [our thoughts] to those around us,” O’Leary says, “If we were ever truly honest, we might be perceived as vulnerable, sad, angry, lonely, lost, arrogant, etc.” 

O’Leary expresses the intention and purpose of her artwork in her artist statement: “The human experience is one of functional dysfunction. We begin our lives as unmolded clay, blank canvases. Yet, as we live, we are all broken, bent, and changed in some way by our experiences. We become vessels to a soul and inner life that is rarely fully articulated, even to ourselves.” 

O’Leary continues, “We navigate the world, filtering our thoughts, feelings, needs, and opinions through what we deem are necessary walls of protection… and so, the risk of being judged as a broken and bent vessel, too far past a time when it could have been deemed beautiful or useful, often outweighs the reward of being truly known.” 

She questions the alternative: “But what if there is beauty within brokenness? What if all the things we never say out loud are the things that make us a masterpieces? What if your soul, and mine, was a work of art? What would happen if I told you what I never said out loud?" 

Each painting has a 3D aspect to it. Fabric is molded and shaped into a vital piece of the artwork physically ‘tying’ it to the vessel that accompanies it. 

“I spent a lot of time thinking about how the human body is a ‘vessel’ for our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and soul. The vessels are supposed to be representative of a body, and the paintings are a visual personification of the ‘thoughts’ that are held within them. The vessels are bent or spiny because we as people are often changed in ways by our experiences, putting up walls to keep people at a distance and from really knowing who we are deep down.” 

About the installation, O’Leary said, “I just made what I felt I wanted to make. The work appeals to me and my aesthetic. The installation is relatively unique, so at the very least, I think it is memorable. However, I don’t think much about what I could have done better or differently.” 

O’Leary ends with a piece of advice for those with whom the art resonates: “It’s natural to struggle with expressing ourselves honestly. It is nothing to feel bad about. However, I think there is immense freedom in being honest. Chances are that those around you have felt similar things and thought similar thoughts. Besides, someone else’s opinion is none of your business, so just be yourself and be kind. I promise it is worthwhile.”

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