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Shawnee artist creating social distancing project, invites community to participate

Elisabeth Slay
Shawnee resident and artist LeAnne Henry Wright hand stitching letters together for her art installation entitled "Cleansing Ourselves of Each Other."

From one man's "last cup of coffee with friends" to a woman's "badges from various musical festivals," Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright has received numerous items and letters representing the struggle people have with social distancing, which she is collection and using to create an art installation entitled "Cleansing Ourselves Of One Another."

According to the mother of two, many are impacted by social distancing and this uncertain time and she said she was inspired to captivate that impact and allow people to connect with one another through her newest creation.

"I recently opened up an art gallery on Main Street and we had one show and it all got shut down and so I was just trying to find a way to stay involved and connected with my community while practicing social distancing," Henry Wright said. "I thought it would be great if people would send me items that represented what they were missing."

The artist explained she began sculpting the items along a wall in her gallery with the center of the piece being a sink.

"I have this old sink and I thought it would be great to have all these items swirling across the wall and kind of becoming one and going toward the drain of the sink," Henry Wright said. "That represents what has taken us apart from one another."

Henry Wright said beneath the sink coming out of the drain are letters she has asked and invites people to write letters explaining what they're feeling during this difficult time.

"I wanted to physically stitch everybody back together so I've taken those letters and I have red thread and as the hand written notes and letters come in I am stitching them to one another," Henry Wright said. "I feel like even though we're separated...this is a way for us to come back together."

The artist explained since she's started this project she has had people from all over Shawnee and even the country of all ages submit items and letters expressing what they miss and feel while maintaining their social distance.

Anyone, Henry Wright said, is welcome to drop off an item, a letter or both to her gallery located at 14B W Main Street in Downtown Shawnee where she will pick it up and add it to her installation.

Henry Wright said she opened her business a few months ago and was disappointed to have to close it down but she's excited to continue building her piece and connecting with people during the pandemic.

"It will make me feel like I can still be an artist," Henry Wright said. "I am used to just telling my own stories but I just feel the need and call to tell everybody's stories and to bring those stories together in one piece."

The artist said people have been sending her all sorts of items such as a coffee cup which represents one man's final gathering with friends or an 11-year-old boy's dance costume which represents his sadness toward missing a performance.

"We truly are all hurting and it's beautiful to see people start to be vulnerable a little bit and open up with their words because it's kind of what we have left," Henry Wright said. "I think that vulnerability is what's really bringing people together."

Henry Wright said people can contact her about an item or letter and she will pick it up in addition to the community leaving items at her gallery.

The mother of two said she hopes after the pandemic ends she can open her gallery again and people can come see the art installation in person.

Originally from Beaver, Oklahoma, Henry Wright said she has been an artist for several years and she's passionate about the craft because it helps her get through challenging times and it's her way of communicating.

"I've just always been using my hands to solve problems...It's something that I went after. It's just how I get through (and) it's how I communicate with my friends (and) with my community," Henry Wright said. "That's where I feel the most confident and connected is when I'm doing art."

In addition to the piece, Henry Wright said she teaches art to students throughout Shawnee and she began teaching virtual classes to her students and some adults.

"I miss them deeply...I will do virtual classes with them online so that will help," Henry Wright said. "I'm calling it ZART with LeAnne...Everyone can be in their own house and I can drop off supplies at their front doors and we can still get together."

In addition to teaching virtual classes, Henry Wright said she and her sons, Duke and Titus are writing encouraging messages to people at various locations in sidewalk chalk.

To contact Henry Wright about the piece, leaving an item or art classes call her at (405) 639-0075 or email her at henrywrightart@gmail.com.

"I think there is just an incredible sense of community that's going to be highlighted by this," Henry Wright said.

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