The Female Gaze: Winter 2015
Picking up the Pieces
In 2006, a year after enduring aggressive treatment for breast cancer, Janice Hayes-Cha ’84, a mother to four children under the age of five, learned she had cancer again; this time it was in her colon. Determined to make sense of her experiences, she turned to art.
Many years prior, Hayes-Cha had faced a different but difficult series of challenges—a divorce from her first husband, the death of her father, and the subsequent death of her mother. To help understand her own complex feelings at the time, she turned to her longtime passion for art, painting self-portraits. After her cancer diagnoses, she decided to create a new self-portrait to solidify this period in her life—complete with her bald head and sullen expression.
Hayes-Cha’s process this time was different. She formed her first portrait by artfully cutting and layering the cards from the stacks that had filled her hospital room, creating a detailed collage depicting herself as a cancer patient. Other collages followed.
My Mount Holyoke friends have been my biggest cheerleaders—getting me through cancer, attending my first solo exhibit, buying my art.
After receiving a clean bill of health, Hayes-Cha and her family relocated to Philadelphia from Boston, a move that prompted her to make the decision to pursue her collage art full time. “When people in Philadelphia asked what I did,” she says, “I just said I was an artist, and no one batted an eye. I had a whole other identity in Boston; it would have been harder to do it there.”
In Boston, Hayes-Cha had spent twenty years in various marketing, fundraising, and healthcare management roles, most recently as executive director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease. She credits her decades of professional work experience as invaluable to the launch of her thriving art business. A member of the women’s art collective MamaCITA, Hayes-Cha is proud to be an active participant in—and be supported by—Philadelphia’s vibrant art scene. (She also sells her work at janicehayescha.com.) But she is also quick to point out that art was not the only thing to help her through her illness.
“My Mount Holyoke friends have been my biggest cheerleaders—getting me through cancer, attending my first solo exhibit, buying my art. They’ve been phenomenal,” she notes. “My circle gets larger over the years. I feel like I have more Mount Holyoke friends now than I did thirty years ago.”
—By Lauren Kodiak
Love and family meet scandal and murder. Quiet academic Theresa Battle finds herself out of her element when her brother is arrested for murder. Attempting to prove his innocence, Theresa starts a series of investigations that lure her deeper into danger. This novel explores familial bonds, academia, and young adulthood.
Emily Arsenault ’98 studied philosophy at Mount Holyoke and has worked as a lexicographer, an English teacher, and a Peace Corps volunteer in rural South Africa. Her other novels include The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, and Miss Me When I’m Gone.
The Story of Land and Sea: A Novel
A story of women dying prematurely and of the men left behind to mourn them, The Story of Land and Sea is set in coastal North Carolina at the end of the American Revolution. The novel follows three generations of a family and their ties to their new country.
Katy Simpson Smith ’06 received an MFA from Bennington College and a PhD in history from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of the nonfiction book We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750–1835. The Story of Land and Sea is her first novel.
Start With a House, Finish With a Collection
Start With a House, Finish With a Collection documents Miller’s expanding love for American art and antiques. Filled with photo-graphs of a diverse collection of furniture, folk art, and paintings, the book illustrates how to integrate antiques into a modern lifestyle and includes historic details of selected works.
Leslie Anne Miller ’73 received her law degree from Temple University and is former general counsel of Pennsylvania and former chair of the Board of Trustees of Mount Holyoke. This is her first book.
Thinking on Her Feet
When Lauren Breunig ’08 took a camp counselor position at Circus Smirkus in 2006 hoping to work with children and get a taste of what it would mean to work in the field of education, she wasn’t expecting to propel herself head first into circus life. Now a full-time circus artist, Breunig works at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) in Brattleboro, Vermont. She spends her days training students of all ages while continuing to refine her own skills.
Breunig’s summer at Circus Smirkus drew her to study with El Circo del Mundo, a social circus organization in Santiago, Chile, where she spent a semester abroad. There, she completed an independent study project on experiential education, a project that solidified her commitment to pursuing a career as a circus artist and expanded on her academic work in her major in critical social thought.
It’s very humbling when your eight-year-old camper is teaching you how to juggle.
Lauren Breunig ’08
After graduation, Breunig spent two years with NECCA’s intensive performance training programs, learning circus tricks as well as the intricacies of producing an artistic program. In the middle of her second year at circus school, she designed her own apparatus, the Sliding Trapeze.
In 2012, Breunig moved to Arizona, where she taught and performed with several studios and events companies. She also worked with an Arizona State University troupe, an experience that allowed her to develop her own characters within an ensemble cast and to explore unconventional movement. As the only aerialist, she says, “It was an interesting challenge to work with the rest of the dancers and actors on the ground . . . then try to translate that movement into aerial work on my own.”
Now back in Brattleboro, Breunig is balancing her dual roles as teacher and performer, and sometimes she finds it is her students who are teaching her new skills. “It’s very humbling when your eight-year-old camper is teaching you how to juggle,” she says. Someday Breunig would love to go on tour with a circus company, but for now she enjoys being a part of such a supportive community and says, “NECCA was a really huge part of my formation as a circus artist and as a teacher.”
She also hones her performing skills as a member of Windborne, a group of singers dedicated to American folk music and traditional vocal music from around the world.
—By Linda Valencia Xu ’16
This article appeared in the winter 2015 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
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January 18, 2015