PHILADELPHIA, PA — Ellen Hanauer, a West Orange native, was selected from artists across the country to participate in “This Is My Home,” an exhibit at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, Pa.
The museum chose five artists to share their personal histories, experiences and hopes.
“Each immersive ‘home’ explores an issue critical to liberty today — history and memory, technology, immigration, homelessness — through personal reflections on the powerful forces that connect us all: cultural identity, trauma and loss, ingenuity and innovation, resistance and resilience,” according to a press release from the museum. “Individually and in dialogue with one another, each artist’s home creates a space of understanding and empathy, two practices vital to the growth and preservation of liberty. ‘This Is My Home’ invites us to see beyond our own lived experiences and recognize our shared humanity.”
The artists were selected through a juried process from approximately 70 entries submitted as part of a national competition.
Hanauer’s work is inspired by her grandfathers, who both came to America with $1 in their pockets. Her home within the exhibit focuses on the rooms they would have rented in boarding houses when they came to America at ages 11 and 13.
The room features a twin bed, titled “Frailty of Life,” made solely of paper products and adhesive; its creation out of paper symbolizes the lack of support for a child who is alone in a new world. The bed is adorned with pages from a school textbook dating back to 1907.
Above the bed, “Dreams of the Child” are flags with photos meant to signify the dreams the young men had for their futures while sleeping, such as of cars, homes of their own and families.
“I thought about the journey and the conditions they would have had to face to build this life for themselves. It was a bit of historical fiction in a way,” Hanauer told the West Orange Chronicle. “It was my combined feelings of what their futures were to hold, the reasons they came to this country. I chose not to use real photos of my family, as these were all visions they would have had.”
Another feature of the home is a chimney called “Survivor’s Guilt.” The chimney is covered with 46 gloves — these gloves symbolize the 46 family members Hanauer and her grandfathers lost in the Holocaust. According to Hanauer, this is incredibly symbolic of the fragility of the world and what can occur if one does not have empathy, kindness and understanding for those who are different from oneself. The gloves allow for a visceral visualization for viewers of those members of her family who were massacred in the Holocaust.
She hopes this exhibit will serve as a type of memorial to those family members. Due to these family members having been incinerated and lost to the fires in the ovens, there are no graves or “proof of existence” that they were ever a part of history, she explained. The way they are gripping onto the fireplace is a testament to the way they were gripping onto their last moments of life and her grandfathers were gripping onto the future that America could offer them, even if they were plagued by survivor’s guilt.
“We are honored to be part of ‘This Is My Home’ at National Liberty Museum,” said Renee Schacht, co-founder and executive director of Tiny WPA, which partnered with the museum for the exhibit. “Exhibits like this one demonstrate the strength and love of Philadelphia. We are especially excited about the ‘This Is My Home’ exhibit and (seeing) these five artists transform the five houses our team of building heroes worked so hard to build.”
Hanauer said that her childhood in West Orange through her adolescence at Mountain High School was filled with incredibly sincere and passionate art teachers, who made her believe she could be an artist. Hanauer went to Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. Upon graduation, she worked in advertising in Manhattan on global campaigns for Fortune 500 companies such as Nabisco.
At age 35, Hanauer gave up her advertising career to pursue her art full time, something she feels blessed to have been able to do. She said that a turning point in her art was when she spent months at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School watching autopsies and dissections in real time while she sketched.
“You cannot tell the difference between races, skin colors, spiritual beliefs, social status or anything else when the skin is pulled away and it’s all muscular structures and the same blood,” she said. “It made me believe even more in my egalitarianism, and it made my art the vehicle through which I would show others that we are all the same.
“I really hope that this exhibit makes people have more empathy, understanding, care and love for the children who are coming to our country today for the same reasons and motives that my grandfathers did,” she said. “When you leave your own country to come to this one, you’re doing it with the belief that you can have a better life, but it’s not easy in any way, and often these children face incredible hardship and judgments when they arrive. I hope that I can show that we are all the same; we have the same dreams and desires for our children.”
Hanauer has been married for nearly 42 years; she has four children and five grandchildren. In her free time, the Livingston resident works on mastering new multimedia art methods.
The “This Is My Home” exhibit at the National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, will be open through Halloween. The museum is open Thursdays through Mondays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about Hanauer, visit https://www.ellenhanauer.com/.
Photos Courtesy of Ellen Hanauer and the National Liberty Museum