Alum Arts Spotlight: Franchesca Vilmenay ‘22

By Hannah Mu

Each year, young artisans and authors from across the country submit their best works in the hopes of gaining acclaim from the longest-running and most prestigious art recognition program in the nation: the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. This program offers awards on an incredibly exclusive scale; to win its highest merit, the Gold Medal, is an incredibly rare honor for the aspiring teen artist – and in this case, for Winsor alum Franchesca Vilmenay ‘22. 

“While Winsor student artists have earned many gold and silver regional awards, only about half a dozen have received national medals before,” says Sara Macaulay, Head of Visual Arts at Winsor and mentor to Vilmenay. “Franchesca is the only Winsor student to reach the very elite group of 11 student artists that received a sizable scholarship and were matched with a professional artist mentor.” 

Vilmenay’s portfolio, titled Figure Form Fabric, was awarded with the Scholastic Gold Medal award in early 2022. Her body of work consists of six beautifully crafted photographs, each drawing the viewer’s attention to its unique conversation between the figure (usually her sister, Alexis) and the fabric around them. “I wanted to investigate the evolution of obscurity by wrapping and unwrapping a figure,”  Vilmenay says.  “I used that confusion and frustration of feeling unheard or invisible to fuel my exploration of the different ways I could make my figure interact with fabric so as to make the figure practically unrecognizable.” 

Because Figure Form Fabric was constructed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a national lockdown, Vilmenay could only use at-home materials to develop this body of work. Most times, she lit her photos using an iPhone flashlight, a lamp, or sunlight. She also tried using mirrors, bedsheets, curtains – and even bubble wrap at one point! – for various functions in her photos. Despite these limitations in both space and material, Vilmenay learned an important lesson: “Making the majority of this portfolio in the confines of my home, I was, quite literally, forced to work inside the box. And I truly think it made me a more innovative and creative artist.” 

Ultimately, Vilmenay hopes that viewers focus on more than just the striking visual aesthetics of Figure Form Fabric: “As much as this portfolio of work represents obscurantism and the artistic methods I used to obscure a figure, it also represents the hidden voices of individuals in my community. If you look at my body of work as a whole, you’ll begin to notice the slow emergence of the figure throughout the portfolio. Similarly, the voices of people in marginalized communities are beginning to be heard and listened to.”