Today we share with you the work of Jack Rayson and Ellie Braun. Both Medalists gravitate to things discovered and experienced in our youth. While talking about childhood and adolescence, Jack explains “There are so many experiences to be had, experiences that cannot yet be expressed in words, and I think those indescribable moments of discovery or realization are the purest moments because they escape language.” Ellie is “inspired to place an emphasis on human sexuality and gender identity through my investigation of adolescents changing their physical appearance.”
Jack and Ellie truly encompass our criteria of originality and technical skill, and bring a genuine and honest personal voice and vision to their work, even when the subject matter can be difficult to address. Take a look at more of their work below!
The Dixie Cup of Salvation (excerpted)
by Jack Rayson
On the Fourth of July, around five, my neighbor Alex asked me if he could try on one of my dresses. It’d been a sudden, unexpected request, and he’d looked so shy drawing circles on the front steps with his foot that I was caught off guard. I agreed, snuck him down the hallway to my bedroom and found something that would fit him, a green dress. Not long from now, the neighborhood would gather for the second picnic (the evening picnic, we were still recovering from the lunch picnic) and fireworks, and my parents always took this more seriously than I ever could. In the kitchen, they diligently prepared potato salad, apple pie, and coleslaw. I sat on my bed, embarrassed by the purple comforter, the remnant of middle school that I had not yet replaced with something more neutral, more mature, something that would not be taken as a sign of my personality, and I waited, not entirely sure what I was waiting for. My bare dug mindlessly away at the carpet as I sat, watching the closet door, the ornate brass knob—the only one we didn’t replace in the renovation.
Believe me, I’d tried convincing him to undress where I could’ve seen him half-naked. I’d teased his shyness, told him it wouldn’t offend me or anything, that it wouldn’t be, as my mom might’ve said, the end of the world. He put his hand on the closet doorknob, and in an act of hasty desperation, I took off my shorts and tossed them into the corner with all the zeal and rebirth of a peasant in the French Revolution.
“See?” I said. “It’s just underwear.”
Ellie explains “Every piece of art I make directly references an experience I have had regarding gender roles in society. My piece Jacob is about the time I witnessed a mother telling her son he could not wear a necklace because “it was made for girls.” I was absolutely infuriated that she essentially told her young son he could not accessorize his physical appearance because of the gender association with the object he desired. The subject in Jacob is purposely placed with multiple necklaces on, along with his hairy stomach hanging out in a somewhat naïve yet sensual pose.”
We Have Not Left You, Planet Earth (excerpted)
by Jack Rayson
Now the people on TV say that no one ever forgets where they were when they heard about it. I hate to give credit to the disingenuous sentiments of the 24-hour news cycle, but I do believe that I’m incapable of losing that moment, that speck of experience. When I learned that the first manned mission to Mars had missed the planet, and that a few astronauts who had “left the safety of Mother Earth’s bosom” were trapped forever in a capsule that was fading helplessly into the void of space, I was sweeping granola crumbs off of my green skirt in the backseat of the family mini-van and stuck somewhere in the middle of traffic on a Missouri highway. We were moving from Kentucky to California, and I wasn’t sure how that was supposed to work because I was twelve. But I don’t keep the astronauts tucked away in my heart or anything. I believe that this suspended moment is the first clear memory I own—the first that doesn’t play back to me all grainy, flooded and saturated in exaggerated, albeit faded, sunlight—because whenever these San Francisco teachers (too progressive for their own good) tell me to write about when I “emerged from my chrysalis as a beautiful, winged adult”, I think of this:
To the left of us, another family claws away at the traffic in a different mini-van, a black one. The father is objectively better looking than mine, the mother fusses with her phone, and the two young boys in the backseat focus on a movie—their ears bound in matching cheap black headphones. It’s a child’s movie, but without the sound it’s dark. There’s a girl, animated with big, shiny eyes, hiding behind a tree on the roadside. She wears a green skirt that’s not unlike mine. Two men, swords drawn, faces hidden by fearsome black helmets, sit on muscular horses and search for her with ill intent. The girl looks frightened, and though I’m sure it’ll end well for her, I can’t watch. A bitter taste drips across the back of my tongue when I look at the girl, and the taste spreads and spreads until I look down at my knees.