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Emily Whisman is sculpting in an art studio

Senior chooses rabbits to sculpt discussions about femininity

When Emily Whisman talks, her hands are moving, which is apt because she says so many things with them. Their work reveals her passion and a deeper meaning to personal thoughts and feelings. Her favorite use of them is creating ceramic sculpture that has the potential to speak to and expose other people’s inner thoughts.

For example, Whisman is building her senior thesis project around three sculpted rabbits she’s creating in her Visual Arts Building studio. Using about 125 pounds of clay, each will take about four weeks to design, build, and shape. The conceptions formed in her head and have been written out, but bringing them to life takes the magic in her hands.

What she wants them to say is vitally important to her.

“I wanted to explore feminine issues in America, which is very broad, and I have since narrowed it down to the relationship between maternity and femininity,” she explained. “My core driving question is, ‘Do you have to be a mother to be a successful woman?’”

She chose to create rabbits because they are a worldwide symbol of fertility, and she wanted something many women could relate to.

“No matter what kind of woman you are, or how you identify, you could relate to this in a big way, and not because it looks like you, but because it feels like you,” Whisman explained. “Movement has a lot to do with that.”

As conceptual pieces, the three rabbits will be displayed in related movements.

But what is this all about, at least to Whisman?

Because she took some time off after high school to work and get married before seeking higher education, Whisman is 28 years old. That means the question she gets asked the most by friends and family — but mostly by strangers — is, “Why don’t you have children?”

They ask her husband Adam what his career is, and he replies he works in logistics management. He never gets asked why he doesn’t have children.

“If I say, ‘I’m a ceramic artist, and I’m planning on getting my master’s in fine arts,’ people say, ‘But don’t you want children?’” Emily says.

Her thoughts and possible answer are no one else’s business, though she used to get defensive about it. Then a year ago, she discovered a connection to rabbits and their symbolism. The one she’s currently working on is bent over in a guarded position as if it’s protecting against those questions.

Ceramic sculpture says something to her, and she wants her work to say something to others. Otherwise, why do it?

“I’m a very empathetic person, and that translates into very empathetic artwork,” Whisman said. “I always get very inspired in other people’s emotional journeys. I think a good way to describe it is I like song lyrics and not the music most of the time. I like what people have to say, and the intimate stories of people. I love deep conversations based on empathy.”

The best way to see some of Whisman’s artistry will be at the Purdue University Fort Wayne Ceramics Club’s annual fall pottery sale on Dec. 6 and 8. This year’s event is moving to the Helmke Library IDEASpace with hours both days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The sale includes work from students, faculty, and local artists. Profits from the sale help support students traveling to the annual National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference in March.

Additionally, the sale inspires Whisman, who is also treasurer for the Ceramics Club, and others to keep pushing creatively with their hands to produce beautiful pieces. The work helps them learn who they are and who they might become as artists and individuals.

“I don’t mind having the reputation as ‘The Rabbit Girl’; I think it’s kind of fun,” Whisman says with a sparkle in her eyes. “They are one of my favorite things to make, and I really love the subject matter. I really love that it can be related to something else so easily.

“If you can look at a piece of art and can feel less alone in the world or a situation, that’s a really powerful thing about art.”

And then, just for a moment, she moves her hands down before starting work again on her latest rabbit.