Our special feature on the 2017 Gold Medal Portfolio recipients continues with Kate Forer and Alixandra Wilens. In her sculptures, Kate creates new shapes and textures out of pieces of paper using an origami technique she learned from her Great Aunt. Alixandra uses her writing to explore the stories of those who have yet to be heard. Both Kate and Alixandra encourage us to look at the mundane, like pieces of paper and the daily lives of others, with new eyes.
“My sculptures are overwhelmingly abstract, and are heavily guided by the natural flow and organic textures of the medium. I tried to evoke natural imagery–bird feathers, lizard scales, tree bark, barnacles, and ocean waves–in order to accent the nearly-living quality produced by the units. I hope my work inspires other people to create art as well.”
“I am the proud daughter of a single mother who chose to give me a story. I know the power of the choices in a story that drive the plot forward, that drive life forward. This is what my writing reflects in my portfolio. Every piece takes a look at the stories of those who are normally overlooked, whose choices in life are both as easy as breathing and as impactful as an earthquake, from a mother who changed the fate of American women forever, to a dragon who breathes fire for the world that scorns it. Every story, and every choice, matters. This is what I want someone who reads my work to understand.”
“Mother Knows Best”
Personal Essay & Memoir, Grade 12, Age 17, John F Kennedy High School, Bellmore, NY
When the world is filled with such amazing people who do such incredible things, it sometimes becomes impossible to find one who has truly impacted your world today. If someone were to ask me to pick a voice from the past who resonates with me today, I would not choose someone who carried out a grand act, but one whose small act made a grand change. Phoebe Ensminger Burn, or Febb Burn, singlehandedly fulfilled the hopes and dreams of a movement over 100 years in the making by passing the Susan B. Anthony Bill, which history would record as the Nineteenth Amendment. She did not vote for it, picket for it, lobby for it, or even scream for it. She simply did as any mother would: teach her child to do what was right.
Febb Burn’s son, Harry, had only two years prior become the youngest representative in the State Assembly of Tennessee. It just so happened that the very same state became the final vote required to enfranchise women all across the country. With a red rose in his lapel, Harry was prepared to support his anti-suffrage brethren, when he received a note from his mother. Harry could hear her voice in his head as he read her words, the same voice that had carried him all through life, the one voice he trusted above his own. Febb revealed to her son that she had been following the suffrage campaign, ending with a mother’s request: “Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” Harry was indeed a good boy. With shaking hands, he stood up on August 18th, 1920, and changed the fate of American women forever, just by listening to his mother.
I know the power of a mother’s voice. It surrounds you, enveloping you in its warmth. It is safety, guidance, and strength. It is home. I always trust my mother’s word. My mom has single-handedly raised me into someone capable of choosing the more righteous path, just as Febb taught her son nearly a century ago. When I am sure, she stands behind me; when I am unsure, she leads the way. When I know my way but am afraid to walk it, she stands beside me, giving me courage. I know the power of a mother’s heart.
Febb Burn has influenced me in so many ways. She proved that small deeds have enormous ramifications. She showed that not even a single choice should be taken for granted, for it has the power to alter lives and worlds. More than anything, her actions embody what I believe is the true spirit of feminism. Deciding to ensure that women are equal to men should not be a conscious choice, but an instinct as easily followed as listening to one’s mother. After all, women are also known as humans. Febb Burn understood this perfectly, and she ensured that her son would never forget it.
Febb Burn enhanced my definition of feminism, and she confirmed my belief in the importance of a choice. Even from almost one hundred years in the past, she still managed to influence the woman I have become. She impacted me by being beautifully herself—as a mother, for guiding her child, as a woman, for standing up for women everywhere, and as a person, for reminding another that doing what is right, what is just, is never wrong. If I could meet with Febb Burn, I would listen to the story of her life. I would shake her hand. I would say thank you.
To see more Gold Medal Portfolio recipients, past and present, visit our Eyes on the Prize series.